While counter-load is a phenomenon widely observed in confined animals, recent research suggests that domestic cats will not choose to do so.

Dogs, pigs, birds, wolves, rodents and even giraffes all have something in common: When given a choice, they would rather work for their food than receive it for free, a phenomenon known as counter-charge name. The outlier? Domestic cats.

According to a recent press release, a study conducted by feline behaviorist Mikel Delgado, clinical animal behavior professor at UC Davis Melissa Bain and assistant veterinary technician Brandon Sang Gyu Han, found that “cats prefer to eat from a tray. readily available food rather than solving a simple puzzle to get their food.

The study was carried out while Delgado was working on postdoctoral research at UC Davis.

“I was aware of a study from about 50 years ago that concluded that cats would not choose contrafreeload,” Delgado said. “But there were some issues – only six cats were studied, it was done in a lab, the cats were starved. The point is, cats hunt, which works for food, so it seemed contradictory that they weren’t cross-charging.

For this reason, Delgado and other researchers hypothesized that “cats would be a counter-load in the home environment if given the choice.” They also hypothesized that more active cats would be more likely to counter-load.

Instead, they found that the cats ate more free food from the board than from the puzzle, made more “first choices” to approach and eat from the board, and that “there was no relationship. between activity and counter-loading ”.

Bain explained that results like these, which do not support the hypothesis, are known as negative results. However, she stressed that this type of finding is still important.

“When studies don’t get the results they wanted, it doesn’t match their hypothesis, often they don’t publish,” Bain said. “But negative results or no results are just as important, and should definitely be published. […] Other animals choose to work for food, but not finding this in our study does not mean that the result of this study is bad.

Bain went on to describe why she found the prospect of study exciting and the importance she believes it holds.

“I really love cats and I love the clinically applicable studies that are applicable from day one,” Bain said. “My world is very clinically driven. Help people with their pets in their homes. I am looking for what is related to the human-animal bond and related to the well-being of the animal. And this is one of those studies that can improve their well-being: have they lost weight? Are they less stressed?

While this study did not necessarily find that the counterload had a definite positive impact on cats, previous research by Delgado shows that food puzzles can be an important enrichment tool for confined animals.

Tony Buffington was alongside Delgado’s co-author of a 2016 article that featured case studies where food puzzles helped cats with issues like weight loss and anxiety.

According to Buffington, via email, the goal was to “equip veterinary professionals with the tools to help clients use food puzzles for their cats to support feline enrichment, physical health and emotional well-being.”

In addition to presenting “evidence-based studies of food puzzles,” Buffington said the authors of the article also provided examples of the benefits of puzzles from their own veterinary and behavioral practices.

Although studies of food puzzles on cats are somewhat rare, according to Buffington, the practice of providing rewarding activities for confined animals has been well documented and studied in a variety of zoo animals.

. “Food puzzles, or what is sometimes called foraging enrichment, provide an opportunity for animals to express behaviors that they may not have access to in their closed environment, behaviors that are natural to them, ”Delgado said.

Delgado explained that this could include spreading food on the ground for animals that typically feed, filling a pumpkin with food on Halloween so an animal has to open it to access it, or a certain many other creative ways to present food to a confined animal. .

Often, zookeepers attempt to match the enrichment activity to an animal’s natural behaviors in the wild. According to Delgado, the failure of food puzzles traditionally presented to domestic cats to simulate their natural, sit-and-wait predatory hunting style could be one of the flaws of the counter-loading study. It is possible that if a puzzle moves like prey, cats are more inclined to work for their food by grabbing their “prey”.

However, Delgado went on to say that even food puzzles that imperfectly simulate natural behavior can benefit animals by providing them with mental stimulation.

“I wouldn’t want to say that just because it doesn’t exactly simulate their natural hunting or foraging style, it’s unnecessary,” Delgado said.

Besides trying out a new type of food puzzle, the article presented several ideas on next steps for research, particularly to determine why domestic cats might be unfavorable to countercharging. While Delgado has left her research position, she invites other researchers to continue her work on the subject.

Buffington has given his opinion on why continuing to learn about food puzzles is important for the welfare of confined animals.

“I think those who defend [for] to confine[ing] cats accept responsibility for providing them with an environment that meets their behavioral needs to ensure [good] health and wellness for them, ”Buffington said. “I hope the food puzzles and the learning that people acquire when they use them correctly will help them meet this responsibility.”

Written by: Sonora Slater – [email protected]

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