6th March 2017, 9:46am
Could your pet contribute to pioneering animal research?
Could your pet contribute to pioneering animal research? Pet owners are being invited to sign up to an academic database which is used to recruit participants for pioneering pet-friendly animal behaviour research.

The Pets Can Do database was launched by researchers at the University of Lincoln, UK, who are internationally renowned for their work which sheds light on how animals behave and the reasons behind their actions. This work often informs parliamentary policy, new treatments, and recommended training methods for a variety of animals, and has featured on major television documentaries including Horizon, Secret Life of Cats, and Amazing Animals.

A recent body of work led by Professor Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine at the University of Lincoln, revealed that pets account for millions of pounds worth of economic activity in the UK and may reduce NHS costs by nearly two and a half billion pounds. The Companion Animal Economics report (completed in collaboration with Mars Petcare’s WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition and published by CABI) was recently the subject of a major parliamentary round-table event that called for Government, businesses and charities to work together to help the UK enjoy the health, social and economic benefits of responsible pet ownership.

The Pets Can Do database enables researchers to work with a variety of domestic animals, and offers pet owners a chance to get involved in exciting research opportunities while learning more about the behaviour of their furry friends.

The database has previously only supported studies about pet dogs but over the coming weeks the team will launch another database for pet cats, with plans to expand to other animals later in the year, including horses, birds, reptiles and more. Cat and dog owners from across the Lincolnshire region are invited to join the community now to hear about future opportunities for getting involved.

Aislinn Evans-Wilday, from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, said: “We would love to hear from local Lincolnshire pet owners who would be interested in helping us with our work, and are keen to find out more about why their pets behave in the way they do. The research we do is always non-invasive and is based purely on behavioural observations, so we find that animals and owners alike really enjoy the experience of taking part.

“The Pets Can Do database is so valuable to the work we do here at the University of Lincoln and we’d like to encourage owners of cats and dogs of any age to sign up. Many of our studies explore how particular ailments (for example hip problems) affect the way our pets behave and how we can help them cope, so we really are keen to hear from pet owners of all dogs and cats, regardless of their health.”  

Pet owners who join the database are contacted with details of relevant research studies and they can then choose whether or not they’d like to take part, often at a time and date to suit them.
One study currently looking for pet dog participants is led by postgraduate research student, Cátia Caeiro. Cátia is examining the human-dog relationship and exploring how dogs perceive different human emotions.

A previous Lincoln study found that dogs can recognise emotions in humans by combining information from different senses – an ability that had never previously been observed outside of humans – and Cátia’s work will create a more detailed picture of how dogs perceive different human emotions and the effects of aging on this ability. The study will involve pet dogs, who can be accompanied by their owner, watching short videos of people and other dogs on a large screen, while a camera records their eye movements and behaviour.

“Dogs are excellent at reading humans’ communication, intentions and emotions,” Cátia explained. “They not only discriminate different facial expressions, but they also understand body gestures such as pointing - but how do they do it? What information are dogs using to read and understand people and other dogs?

"I hope that this study will help us understand how dogs can read human behaviour so well and, consequently, enable us to communicate more effectively with our pets. We will also be able to compare the results of our study with information about emotion perception mechanisms in humans, which could potentially inform future research into the early detection of dementia and Alzheimer’s.”

For more information on this and other studies, and to join the Pets Can Do database, visit the website or get in touch via email: petscando@lincoln.ac.uk, or telephone: 01522 885455.
--Ends--