Is There A Link Between Your Pets and Your Food Choices?

People who grow up with a greater variety of pets are significantly more likely to follow a vegetarian diet as adults, according to research by a professor-student team in the University at Albany psychology department.

Sydney Heiss, graduate student in the department of psychology, worked with assistant professor Julia Hormes to gain a better understanding of the factors that play a role in a person’s decision to refrain from animal products as adults.

pets_and_vegetarians_550(1)

Assistant Professor of Psychology Julia Hormes, left, and graduate student Sydney Heiss, both with their dogs, conducted research on the influence that childhood pets have on a person’s diet choices in adulthood. Photo by State University of New York, Albany

The two recruited study participants from social media webpages focused on food in general, including those focused on vegetarianism and veganism, resulting in a pool of 325 participants with a mean age of 30 years.

Participants provided their demographic information and whether they followed any vegetarian diet, including “flexitarian” (mostly vegetarian, but sometimes eats meat), “semi-vegetarian” (eats some types of meat but refrains from others), “pescetarian” (eats fish, eggs and dairy but refrains from other meat products), “lacto-ovo-vegetarian” (eats eggs and dairy, but refrains from all animal flesh), “vegan” (no animal products whatsoever), and “raw vegan” (consumes exclusively uncooked non-animal products).

Heiss and Hormes then assessed the individual’s beliefs and attitudes regarding the use of animals in food, clothing and research and surveyed them on their ownership and relationship with any childhood pets. Participants were asked about the number and types of their childhood pets, how often they were responsible for their animal(s) care, how close they felt to the animal(s), etc.

After a statistical analyses of all responses, the duo found:

  • Those who owned pets in childhood were significantly more likely than those without pets to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet as an adult.
  • Those who owned a variety of pets (i.e. hamsters, dogs and cats, as opposed to just dogs) were more likely to avoid a wider range of animal products (e.g., refrain from all animal products as opposed to only meat) than those who owned fewer pets.
  • A wider variety of pets led to a stronger opposition towards animal exploitation, which in turn led to less animal product consumption.
  • Closeness to ones’ pet was a significant predictor of a person’s likelihood to refrain from animal products as an adult.

“It seems as though individuals who had different types of pets more easily empathize with farmed animals or those used in research,” said Heiss. “For example, someone who had only a dog may have difficulty feeling empathy for a cow, whereas someone who grew up with farm animals may be more attuned to characteristics that are shared across all species and therefore, better able to empathize with all animals.”

Though research previously existed suggesting a potential link between pet ownership and animal product restriction, Hormes notes there’s a key difference about this most recent study.

“Past research has suggested that closeness to a childhood pet is the key factor that predicts increased empathy and vegetarianism in adulthood,” said Hormes. “Our findings suggest that there may be more than one pathway to vegetarianism in adulthood – the number of pets in childhood, ethical concerns towards animal use, and level of vegetarianism is significant.”

The full study can be read here.

Source:  State University of New York press release

 

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Dogs could be more similar to humans than we thought

Dog and human gut microbiomes have more similar genes and responses to diet than we previously thought, according to a study published in the open access journal, Microbiome.

Canine Microbiome

The canine microbiome is quite similar to that of humans. Credit: © Kar Tr / Fotolia

Dr Luis Pedro Coelho and colleagues from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, in collaboration with Nestlé Research, evaluated the gut microbiome of two dog breeds and found that the gene content of the dogs microbiome showed many similarities to the human gut microbiome, and was more similar to humans than the microbiome of pigs or mice.

Dr Luis Pedro Coelho, corresponding author of the study, commented: “We found many similarities between the gene content of the human and dog gut microbiomes. The results of this comparison suggest that we are more similar to man’s best friend than we originally thought.”

The researchers found that changes in the amount of protein and carbohydrates in the diet had a similar effect on the microbiota of dogs and humans, independent of the dog’s breed or sex. The microbiomes of overweight or obese dogs were found to be more responsive to a high protein diet compared to microbiomes of lean dogs; this is consistent with the idea that healthy microbiomes are more resilient.

Dr Luis Pedro Coelho, commented: “These findings suggest that dogs could be a better model for nutrition studies than pigs or mice and we could potentially use data from dogs to study the impact of diet on gut microbiota in humans, and humans could be a good model to study the nutrition of dogs.

“Many people who have pets consider them as part of the family and like humans, dogs have a growing obesity problem. Therefore, it is important to study the implications of different diets.”

The researchers investigated how diet interacted with the dog gut microbiome with a randomized controlled trial using a sample of 64 dogs, half of which were beagles and half were retrievers, with equal numbers of lean and overweight dogs. The dogs were all fed the same base diet of commercially available dog food for four weeks then they were randomized into two groups; one group consumed a high protein, low carb diet and the other group consumed a high carb, low protein diet for four weeks. A total of 129 dog stool samples were collected at four and eight weeks. The researchers then extracted DNA from these samples to create the dog gut microbiome gene catalogue containing 1,247,405 genes. The dog gut gene catalogue was compared to existing gut microbiome gene catalogues from humans, mice and pigs to assess the similarities in gene content and how the gut microbiome responds to changes in diet.

The authors caution that while humans and dogs host very similar microbes, they are not exactly the same microbes, but very closely related strains of the same species.

Source:  Science Daily

Increased protections for animals

Earlier this month, I reviewed Run, Spot, Run by Jessica Pierce.  In that book, Pierce provides a list of incremental changes each of which would offer increased protections to animals.

I quote them here for sharing purposes because they are the most comprehensive list I have found thus far in terms of explaining the shortcomings we still have in animal care,  welfare, and protection.

Chester looking out window

  • licensing requirements for all pet owners
  • laws limiting or prohibiting the sale of live animals
  • laws regulating international and interstate shipping of live animals
  • a federal prohibition on the sale of crush films, in particular, and animal pornography in general
  • state laws making sexual assault of an animal punishable (not limited to sexual assaults that are fatal or cause severe injury)
  • better and more frequent inspections of breeding facilities
  • better and more frequent inspections of animal wholesale facilities
  • greater transparency in the pet industry, such as, perhaps, in identifying the sourcing of animals for sale
  • greater transparency in the shelter industry
  • state laws requiring at least eight hours of training for anyone performing euthanasia
  • free speech protections for those who expose corporate animal abuses
  • reporting requirements for veterinarians (e.g. abuse, sexual assault)
  • combined/coordinated reporting of animal abuse and domestic partner, child or elder abuse
  • a publicly accessible national registry of those convicted of animal cruelty or sexual assault
  • increased (and responsible) media reporting of crimes against animals
  • more community resources (e.g. tax money) dedicated to shelters, animal control facilities, and cruelty investigators
  • state-appointed lawyers to represent animals in court
  • required humane education in schools
  • laws making failure to provide timely veterinary care a legally enforceable welfare violation
  • laws allowing pet owners to collect damages for emotional pain and suffering resulting from the loss of a pet at the hands of another human
  • laws making “convenience euthanasia”an animal cruelty violation
  • greater regulation of the pet food industry, including more rigorous inspection of ingredients, greater transparency about sourcing and ingredients, and a well-coordinated method of alerting customers about recalls

Source:  Run, Spot, Run by Jessica Pierce, pages 211-212

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Run, Spot, Run – book review

Run, Spot, Run -The Ethics of Keeping Pets by Jessica Pierce takes its name from the black and white puppy of the Dick and Jane early reader books that were used from the 1930s until the 1970s.

Spot is a stand-in for all the animals that are kept as pets; this is not just cats and dogs but also exotics and other animals.

Run Spot Run by Jessica Pierce

The scope of this book is a mixture of information which is enlightening, challenging and thought-provoking.

Pierce, a bioethicist, aims to answer the fundamental question, “Is it ethical to keep pets?”  And the issue isn’t nearly as black and white as Spot the dog was.

She covers the implication of care needs such as spay/neuter, enrichment and feeding, for example.  The feeding chapters canvas the issues of what we choose to feed, and how these feeds are sourced – powerful stuff that is often missed in the ever-present “raw vs kibble” debate.  Food for thought, definitely.

Cruelty and neglect are also covered, as are the hard-hitting facts of other animal abuse such as sexual abuse of animals (this chapter comes with a warning about offensive and disturbing content).   Exotic pets and their plight are also discussed.

This book is not a light read; but for any true pet lover, you owe it to yourself to look at the wider ethical issues around pet care and responsibility.  Pierce’s final words are a fitting closure to this book:

“I leave you with a call to action.  Change starts with awareness.”

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Dogs – a driving force behind the home buying market

A major reason I bought my first home was to adopt a dog; I couldn’t confidently bring a dog into my home when I was renting.

I see that I was a woman ahead of my time (Gen X – not Millennial).  A study by SunTrust Mortgages from the USA reveals some interesting trends for first-time home buyers:

Harris Poll on behalf of SunTrust Mortgage Infographic

That’s right – not children or marriage, but dogs were one of the top 3 motivators for buying a home.

“Millennials have strong bonds with their dogs, so it makes sense that their furry family members are driving home-buying decisions,” said Dorinda Smith, SunTrust Mortgage President and CEO. “For those with dogs, renting can be more expensive and a hassle; home ownership takes some of the stress off by providing a better living situation.”

Among millennials who have never purchased a home, 42 percent say that their dog – or the desire to have one – is a key factor in their desire to buy a home in the future, suggesting dogs will also influence purchase decisions of potential first-time homebuyers.

What does this mean if you are selling a home (or are a real estate sales agent)?  Make sure you strongly advertise a securely-fenced section, local parks and dog-friendly facilities such as dog parks or cafes.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Source:  PR Newswire

 

 

 

Netflix and Woof

When it comes to watching TV, most people — 58 percent — find pets to be the best binge partner, a new survey released by Netflix reveals.

One in three respondents, meanwhile, said they’ve turned to their furry friends for comfort during a sad or scary scene. And 22 percent have talked to their pet about the show or movie they were watching.

dog watching tv on the couch

Additional stats:

  • 37 percent have moved where they were sitting so their pet would be more comfortable.
  • 22 percent have bribed them with treats to watch longer.
  • 12 percent have turned off a show because their pet didn’t appear to like it.

Dog owners are more likely to choose action like Narcos and Marvel’s Daredevil, the survey found. Cat owners prefer sci-fi series like Black Mirror and Star Trek Discovery. And bird lovers like comedies such as Orange is the New Black.
The one show that brings all streaming species together: Stranger Things.

The survey was conducted Jan. 9-25 by SurveyMonkey and based on more than 50,000 responses. The sample is representative of an adult online population who watch Netflix with their pets in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

Source:  Pets Plus

More communication needed about disposal of pet pharmaceuticals

If no one told you the proper way to get rid of those leftover heartworm pills, bottles of flea shampoo and other pet care products your household no longer needs, you’re not alone.

New research from Oregon State University found that more than 60 percent of veterinary care professionals do not counsel their clients when it comes to the environmental stewardship aspect of medicine disposal – findings that are troublesome but also represent an opportunity to dramatically reduce watershed contaminants.

OSU dog

“People are just starting to understand the impact that discarded pharmaceuticals and personal care products have on the environment,” said the study’s corresponding author, Jennifer Lam, who worked on the research while a graduate student in marine resource management at Oregon State University.

“This study opens the door and shows a communication gap, shows where there’s an opportunity to help educate people. There’s not much communication going on between veterinary care professionals and their clients on how to dispose of expired pet medicines, meaning there’s a lot of potential for those professionals to help their clients learn what to do.”

Lam, now a senior analyst for Blue Earth Consultants, and other researchers at OSU surveyed 191 pet owners and found nearly half of them got rid of unneeded care products and medicine via the garbage; Blue Earth, based in Oakland, California, is an environmental management consulting division of ERG.

Researchers surveyed 88 environmental educators and 103 veterinary care professionals. The survey revealed 61 percent of the veterinary professionals did not share information about proper disposal with their clients. And the 39 percent who reported sharing that information did so 19 percent of the time – roughly one appointment in five.

“It’s not a popular topic to bring up,” said Lam, who noted the professionals listed a number of barriers to communication, including lack of knowledge about proper disposal, time, cost and lack of concern on the part of both client and care provider.

“Survey respondents said their professional organizations, such as their veterinary associations, are their top source for disposal information,” Lam said. “This shows that veterinary-care professionals can serve as role models for other pet owners on environmental stewardship practices.”

Scientists have long known about the potential environmental effects stemming from the use and disposal of products aimed at keeping people healthy and clean, but with roughly seven in 10 Americans owning at least one pet, animal medications and other care products are slowly beginning to move into the spotlight too.

Pet supplies and over-the-counter pet medications are a nearly $15 billion industry in the U.S. Veterinary care including prescription medicine is close to a $16 billion chunk of the economy. Both figures are on the rise.

“But you can count on one hand the number of studies that have been done on what people actively do with the disposal of PPCPs – pharmaceutical and personal care products – for both themselves and their pets,” said Sam Chan, a watershed health expert with the Oregon Sea Grant program at Oregon State. “PPCPs are used by almost everyone and most wastewater treatment plants are not able to completely deactivate many of the compounds they include.”

Increasingly, Chan said, chemicals from PPCPs for people and pets are being found at low levels in groundwater and surface water; anti-inflammatories, antidepressants, antibiotics, estrogens, insect repellant, antimicrobials and sunscreen compounds are among what’s being detected.

Some impacts are already appearing, he said. For example, fish exposed to antidepressants become more active and bold and thus more susceptible to predation.

“Most people tend to throw extra pills or personal care products into the trash and, in fewer instances, flush them down the drain,” Chan said. “It seems like the right thing to do but it’s not the best thing for the environment.”

The national Sea Grant program is partnering with the American Veterinary Medical Association to promote proper PPCP disposal: Dropping them off at a take-back event or bringing them to a depository such as those in place at some police stations and college campuses.

“This study is one of the first to really show a baseline on the environmental stewardship of pet owners regarding their use and disposal of personal and pet medicine and care products,” Lam said. “It also shows the correlation between what pet owners do with their own medicine versus their pets’ – both types of products are being disposed of in similar ways.”

This research was funded in part by Oregon Sea Grant. Findings were published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Source:  Oregon State University media release