New research to explore genetic causes of aggressive behaviour in dogs


An interesting new study by academics at the University of Lincoln is looking at genetic factors that may contribute to impulsive aggression in dogs.

Some dogs may be predisposed to act aggressively with little warning, which can lead to people being injured and the dogs then being rejected by their owners and euthanised without treatment. Life Sciences PhD student Fernanda Fadel is trying to identify the genetic risk factors of dog aggression.

She said: “While aggressive behaviour is a normal part of every animal’s make up, it is important to identify individuals who represent a higher risk, in order to manage this risk effectively. 

“A central theme to this work is the recognition that we all have the same core traits; we just tend to express them to a greater or lesser degree as individuals. Thus anyone can be aggressive, but some may be more likely to show this in a given circumstance than another.”

The aim of the project is to develop a method that allows identification of at-risk individuals who may need specific management measures to help them live happy and fulfilling lives, at minimal risk to others. 

For this, Fernanda is recruiting dogs based on components of their personality, measured using a questionnaire developed at the University of Lincoln called the Dog Impulsivity Assessment Scale (DIAS). 

She will then need to collect DNA samples from the saliva of those dogs that fit a certain profile. Some will be considered lower risk subjects and some may be higher risk. Fernanda needs to compare both low and high risk dogs’ genome, so all dog owners can help out.

When the relevant genes have been identified, researchers will aim to develop a genetic test to identify dogs with a tendency towards aggressive behaviour. By knowing which dogs have a high risk to potentially behave aggressively, the owners may be able to undertake measures to prevent accidents.  

The latest and simplest method for collecting DNA samples from pet dogs is to take a saliva swab. A small sponge is placed in the dog’s cheek and from this, scientists can extract DNA and analyse their genome. 

This method is non-invasive, which means it does not cause any pain or discomfort to the dogs. Individuals will not be specifically identified and the data will not be shared with any outside body. 

However, if you are looking for help with managing your dog’s behaviour, you can contact the University’s Animal Behaviour Clinic team for further information at

To take part in the survey please visit

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The spas where dogs are welcome too


By Bonnie Friend

The mere mention of taking your dog to a spa indicates that you really must be having a giggle.  That or you are Paris Hilton; surely there is no middle ground on this subject matter?  This at least, is the thought process unless you happen to be a dog owner, at which point it is entirely logical that he/she/it should also come along on a spa day or break, and maybe pop in for a facial as well.

In a world where even your cat is likely to have its own Twitter account however, it is perhaps needless to say that it is actually becoming increasingly common to be able to take your dog with you on a spa day.  In truth, it makes a lot of sense; this is a character that brings you much joy, so should only enhance a day of wellbeing and general happiness.  There may be an extra fee for their attendance in many instances, but come on, if you are going to treat ‘Fluffy’ et al as though they are unusually hairy people, it’s only fair that they acts like it and pay their way.

The question is where can you go … together?

Luton Hoo Hotel, Bedfordshire:  Surrounded by 1065 acres of land, this is as much a paradise for pets as it is for people.  You potter off and have your spa treatment, and for a £35.00 supplement your pooch can chill out in the gardens and will also be given a bed and dinner.

Spread Eagle Hotel and Spa, West Sussex:  Cuddling up by the fire is one of the highlights at Spread Eagle Hotel and Spa after a day of exploring the surrounding historic town of Midhurst and relaxing by the pool, and no doubt the dog will agree, particularly as for £15 a night he/she also gets dinner – no reason why you should have all the fun.

Clumber Park Hotel and Spa, Nottinghamshire: With a view of Sherwood Forest and just over the road from the National Trust’s Clumber Park estate, both you and your pet can get an outdoor workout in before winding down for the small supplement of £15 per dog per day.

Fairmont St Andrews, Scotland:  On a cliff top surrounded by one of Scotland’s most famous golf courses and looking out across the sea, Fairmont St Andrews is a five star experience for everyone to enjoy, particularly as the Pets Perks Package comes at a mere £20.00 per night.

Armathwaite Hall Country House and Spa, Cumbria:  You will find few places more picturesque than this 11th century castle, and the £15 per dog price tag should ensure that they remain man/woman’s best friend for life.

Bonnie is editor of

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The Internet’s most popular pets!

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Is ‘renting’ a dog right for the dog?

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Human foods which can poison pets


It’s Easter and we’re all tucking into chocolate, and we may also be tempted to feed our pets bits of Easter egg. But chocolate, like many other ‘people foods’, can be dangerous to our feline friends and canine companions.

Here’s our list of human foods which are most toxic to our pets: 

Chocolate, coffee & alcohol 
The substances in chocolate, coffee, and caffeine, methlxanthines, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, and potentially death in pets. The higher the cocoa percentage, the more dangerous the chocolate is, making dark chocolate more toxic than milk or white chocolate. All these products can cause vomiting, diarrhea and even death.

Grapes & raisins 
These can be toxic to dogs and cause kidney failure. Researchers say there are still many unknowns about the toxicity of grapes and raisins, including whether only certain types of dogs are affected, but it is advised not to feed grapes or raisins to dogs in any amount.


While many pet owners say they feed their pets avocados with no problems, studies have shown that their leaves, fruit, seeds and bark can contain a toxin called Persin.

Onions, onion powder, chives and garlic
These all can lead to gastrointestinal irritation and red blood cell damage. All forms of onion can cause problems including dehydrated onions, raw and cooked onions. Cats are more susceptible than dogs, but it can be toxic to both.

Foods with a high salt or fat content
Excessive fats can cause upset stomach and potentially inflame the pancreas causing pancreatitis. Salty foods can pose a risk for the development of sodium ion toxicosis. Be aware that if your pet gets into food with a high fat or salt content, he could experience stomach problems including diahorrea and vomiting.

Left-over bones
Left-over bones pose a choking hazard to pets, and they can also splinter and puncture your pet’s gut or intestine. Additionally, do not feed your pet undercooked meat or eggs, as they can contain harmful bacteria.

Macadamia nuts
These nuts can cause weakness, vomiting, tremors and hyperthermia in dogs. Symptoms generally last up to two days, and usually appear within 12 hours of ingestion.

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Insights into the primate pet trade 

PictureKodak ©Wild Futures

By Paul Michael Reynolds MSc, Education Officer and Primate Keeper at Wild Futures.

Wild Futures is a UK registered charity founded upon five decades of experience as a leader in the field of primate welfare and conservation, education, and sustainable practice. We are committed to protecting primates and habitats worldwide, with our UK flagship project “The Monkey Sanctuary” housing monkeys rescued from the primate pet trade and other abusive captive situations. 

Our primary focus at Wild Futures is to protect primates and one of our main methods for achieving this is through education. Our education program raises awareness of the serious conservation and welfare implications for victims of the primate pet trade and other issues affecting primates worldwide. 

Some of the monkeys at our Sanctuary were born in the wild and through both legal and illegal means, have ended up as pets in Europe. Kodak the capuchin (see photo above), started his life in the rainforest and probably witnessed his family group shot. He then found himself transported across the globe to Greece where he was kept in a photo shop, until his owner realised he needed to be with others of his own kind. He is now the alpha male of his own group at our Sanctuary. 

We estimate with the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) that there are at least 7,000 privately owned primates in the UK, with further evidence suggesting it is far higher and there are signs that the primate pet trade is on the increase.  Our Sanctuary witnesses the damage caused by this trade every day.  Of the 37 monkeys residing at our Sanctuary, many of them display serious physical and psychological problems resulting from their time kept as pets.  

Our campaign work has led to much advancement, including political recognition that the trade in primates as pets is an issue within the UK, the publication of the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Privately Kept Non-Human Primates (to be used in conjunction with the Animal Welfare Act 2006) and strong public support, which has resulted in a parliament led committee discussing the UK primate pet trade.  

We are working hard to protect primates and their habitats worldwide and strive for the day when all monkeys are free from the threat of the pet trade, free from malnutrition, mental, physical and emotional suffering.

Author bio:
Paul Reynolds started off at Wild Futures as a volunteer after completing his MSc in 2010, he swiftly advanced to become a primate keeper intern and then entered his current role as Education Officer. He is driven and committed to ending the exploitation of primates for any purpose. You can email him at [email protected] 

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A fantastic campaign to get our pets fighting fit!


Take-aways, biscuits, chips and even alcohol – are all fuelling an ongoing obesity crisis for British pets, whose collars are bursting at the buckles due to our addiction to high-calorie, fatty diets.
According to vet charity PDSA, more than 10 million pets* are getting fatty treats, due to owners sharing their own unhealthy eating habits with their pets in a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to make them happy.
The research shows that around nine out of ten owners (87%)* give pets treats, despite the fact that 91% realise the resulting obesity can reduce their pet’s lifespan. Around 2.5 million dogs (one in three) and over two million cats (one in four) are currently overweight and, not only could they have their lives cut short, they will also have a drastically reduced quality of life in some cases.
Scotland topped the lardy league table when it comes to lavishing animals with potentially deadly junk food, with 72% of owners admitting to giving fatty treats. Welsh pet owners are the next worst offenders, with 69% of owners over indulging their pets. Two in three North West pet owners (64%) are also loading their pets up with high-calorie, unsuitable snacks. While London pet owners scored the best, around half (48%) of owners are still feeding inappropriate food to their four-legged friends.  
To help combat the problem the charity has launched its annual fat-fighting competition, PDSA Pet Fit Club. Over the last eight years, the contest has transformed the lives of some of Britain’s fattest pets, many of whom simply wouldn’t have survived had their weight issues not been tackled.
Owners can enter their pets at; the deadline for entries is Sunday 27 April 2014.

Elaine Pendlebury, PDSA Senior Veterinary Surgeon, said: “Sadly, seeing morbidly obese pets is now an everyday occurrence in vet practices across the UK; it is one of the biggest welfare concerns facing the nation’s pets. It’s effectively a silent killer leading to long term health issues for pets that can cut their lifespan by up to two years.
“Pet obesity significantly increases the danger of developing major health problems such as diabetes, arthritis and heart disease and can also bring about the onset of these chronic diseases much earlier. It’s tragic to think that millions of pets are suffering under the strain of carrying too much weight, when it is an entirely preventable condition.”  
PDSA’s 2013 PAW Report*, produced in conjunction with YouGov, provides the biggest annual insight into pet health and welfare and has discovered a wide range of inappropriate treats are being fed to pets. These include fast food leftovers, crisps, biscuits, chocolate and chips. In some cases, it appears pets have also been helping themselves to leftover alcoholic drinks.
Dr Philippa Yam, leading animal obesity expert at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Glasgow, said: “PDSA’s findings are very worrying and demonstrate that diet remains one of the most misunderstood welfare needs for pets. Obesity is one of the most pressing health issues affecting companion animals. PDSA’s work in this area is hugely successful.
“I am delighted to see that Pet Fit Club is continuing to make a real impact on pet obesity, by raising awareness of the issue and helping to transform the lives of many pets who were heading for an early grave due to the severity of their weight problems. PDSA’s programme clearly demonstrates that with tailored veterinary support and education, this devastating condition can be reversed.”

Watch the PDSA Pet Fit Club video.

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Pets magazine exclusive: Leading vet on ‘Zoonoses’ or diseases you can catch from your pet 


By Mark Hedberg, DrMedVet MRCVS

The veterinary profession is warning that more people will catch TB from their pets, as it is ‘endemic’ in wildlife. Leading vet Mark Hedberg writes exclusively for Pets magazine on zoonotic diseases or infectious diseases that are transmitted between species, specifically from animals to humans.

If you are reading this article, chances are you are one of the estimated 13 million households in the UK that own at least one pet. (PFMA 2012). And if you’ve ever owned a pet, chances are someone’s told you stories about all the nasty bugs and diseases you can get from your animal friends.

The scientific word for a disease you can get from an animal is “zoonosis”. (plural: zoonoses.)

It’s true: there are over a hundred diseases humans can get from animals. The good news is that if you live in the United Kingdom, you’re probably only going to meet with three or four of them.

In this article we’ll cover the three most frequent zoonoses in the UK, and one very famous disease. All of them are treatable, and all of them are preventable.

Gastrointestinal disease

Gastrointestinal disease is what we call a ‘tummy bug’ or ‘food poisoning’. It happens when bacteria or viruses get into our food or into our mouth. Most commonly this occurs when you forget to wash your hands before eating, especially after playing with animals.

Reptiles are often accused of carrying salmonella, but the truth is, dogs and cats can carry it too. The prevention: never let your pets eat off your plate, and always wash your hands after playing or working with your pets. Always wash your hands before eating, no matter what.

Skin disease

One of the most common things people pick up from stray animals is ringworm. No, it’s not a worm. Ringworm is a skin fungus; you first notice it when you get a ring-shaped itchy bad spot on your skin. It’s easily treatable with anti-fungal skin creams from your chemist. Stubborn cases should be seen by your GP.

Fleas and mites can also pass from a pet to a human; this usually only happens when your pet has a severe flea or mite infestation. Treatment with an anti-flea spot-on solution can help control this. In case of severe infestation, you may need to get a prescription-strength product from your vet.  (Always read the instructions before using any medicine on your pet! Dog flea medication can KILL cats!)

Bites and Scratches

The mouth of a dog is full of germs – they’re constantly sniffing, licking, digging and chewing their way through their daily walk. Cats can scratch and dig with the best of them, as well as catching mice and birds. Is it any wonder that many bites and scratches become infected?

Untreated bite and scratch wounds can cause severe discomfort, and in extreme cases may require hospitalization. Yes, this is a zoonosis too – you’ve gotten this disease from an animal! As long as we spend time with animals, there is the risk of catching a disease from them. Don’t panic – common sense precautions and good hygiene are your best ally to prevent catching most diseases from pets!

Exotic animals are frequent culprits too – the NHS estimates that bites and injuries from reptiles caused 760 consultations, 709 hospital stays, and 2121 days in hospital for patients between 2004 and 2012!

The Truth about Toxoplasma

No article on zoonosis would be complete without a mention of toxoplasma. This disease is responsible for a huge number of wrongly re-homed cats. I’ve heard people believe all kinds of things about toxoplasma. Some people think toxoplasma can cause harm to women and children. One gentleman informed me that he wanted to re-home his cat, as a cat would cause his pregnant wife to die. (This is absolutely NOT true.)

  • Toxoplasma is a parasite – and cats can carry it. If a pregnant woman is infected with toxoplasma, her unborn baby may suffer birth defects. 

  • Toxoplasma is transmitted through undercooked or contaminated meat, contaminated dirt, and cat faeces. Fortunately, the only way to catch toxoplasma is to eat it. You heard me – cook your meat thoroughly, and don’t eat cat poop!

  • Handling your cat is perfectly safe. If you are pregnant – have someone else clean your cat’s litter tray; and have them wash their hands when they’re done. Dispose of the used litter and cat faeces promptly. 

  • If you are pregnant and have to clean the litter tray, use gloves. Wash your fruit and veg thoroughly before eating them, and don’t drink unpasteurized milk.

  • Still worried? A blood test can check if you have ever been exposed to toxoplasma. 

  • If you have, you’re safe – you can’t catch it twice.

Life, of course, isn’t risk free. As long as we spend time with animals, there is the risk of catching a disease from them.

Don’t panic – common sense precautions and good hygiene are your best ally to prevent catching most diseases from pets!

Mark currently works for The College of Animal Welfare, a non-profit animal care and veterinary nurse college in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. 

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Pets as therapy


A prestigious veterinary journal has published a feature in which Professor Daniel Mills and Dr Sophie Hall discuss the therapeutic effects of companion animals.

Professor Mills, from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, and Dr Hall, who will be joining the team on a project related to pet dogs and families with autistic children, also focus on the influence of pets on childhood development in the article for Veterinary Record.

Despite a growing body of evidence indicating many benefits surrounding the relationship between people and pets, the authors suggest even more novel interventions using companion animals are possible in preventative healthcare.

They conclude: “Animal companionship is potentially more cost-effective and socially acceptable than technological solutions. Companion animals should not be considered a luxury or unnecessary indulgence, but rather, when cared for appropriately, they should be seen as valuable contributors to human health and wellbeing and, as a result, society and the broader economy.”

Pets are often used to support people, but there are few controlled investigations into the effects of human-animal companionship in medical settings, and this is an area that researchers are keen to develop further at the University following Dr Hall’s appointment.

Along with reducing overt emotional responses such as anxiety, there is evidence to suggest that animal companionship can be highly influential in reducing a sense of isolation. 

The constant companionship of an animal has been shown to reduce feelings of loneliness in elderly care home residents. And a further study with patients in palliative care showed that the presence of a dog, cat or rabbit improved the mood of patients. Similar mood changes have also been observed in children with autism and Alzheimer’s patients.

The team is now engaged in a long term follow-up of their earlier controlled study, in conjunction with the Parents Autism Workshops and Support Network, examining the effects of pet dog ownership on UK families with an autistic child. Results from the initial study are due to be reported soon in the scientific press. Uniquely, this has examined the effects on the child, primary carer and wider family, since it is hypothesised that all of these might benefit from the companionship provided by a dog.

The positive effects of animals in reducing negative emotions and increasing positive emotions may improve not only quality of life but can also help with the development of effective interventions.

Previous research in the field of human health and medical psychology has provided evidence to suggest that dog and cat owners have better psychological and physical health than non-owners. Dog owners are also reported to recover more quickly after serious mental and physical illness, and even make fewer visits to their doctor. All of these effects might have a significant impact on NHS costs at a time when government is looking for cost savings,

The authors comment: “We should be curious about all the ways companion animals can potentially help us and embrace the opportunities provided by a greater appreciation of the impact of companion animals on our lives. 

“It is perhaps ironic that in a world that seems to be increasingly encouraging the development of technologies to make our lives easier, an obvious answer to many of our problems may be literally staring us in the face (or sitting on our lap).”

To read the full article ‘Animal-assisted interventions: making better use of the human-animal bond’ in Veterinary Record go to

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The dog and cat fur trade

Each year, approximately 2 million dogs and cats are slaughtered for their meat and fur in Asia. Investigations have revealed that these animals are largely strays, and even pets stolen from their homes. Cats are routinely killed by strangulation, often in full view of their cage mates. Dogs are hung by the neck or paws and slashed across the groin. Their fur is used to make a variety of products that are shipped all over the world. 

The European Union ban on imports took effect as of 1 January 2009. However, some products made with dog or cat fur may be mislabeled. 

Please be cautious if choosing to buy fur products – particularly in Canada where the import and export of dog and cat skins is shockingly perfectly legal. 

VIDEO LINK: Dog and cat fur trade

The facts:

  • Up to 10 adult dogs needed to make fur coat
  • Up to 24 cats needed for cat fur coat
  • Cat and dog fur also used in hats, gloves, shoes, blankets, stuffed animals and toys
  • Dog fur labelled as: Gae-wolf, sobaki, Asian jackal, goupee, loup d’Asie, Corsac fox, dogues du Chine, fake or exotic fur
  • Cat fur labelled as: house cat, wild cat, katzenfelle, rabbit, goyangi, mountain cat
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