BBC’s Cat Watch 2014 features animal behaviour expert

Following the success of last year’s BBC Horizon investigation into the secret life of cats living in one village, Dr Sarah Ellis from the University of Lincoln, UK, is to appear in a new three-part series.

Cat Watch 2014: The New Horizon Experiment, to be broadcast on 7th, 8th and 9th October, will see a team of professional cat experts back to dig deeper into the incredible world of cats.

The show is presented by Liz Bonnin, cat experts Dr Sarah Ellis and Dr John Bradshaw, and Professor Alan Wilson and his team from the Royal Veterinary College.

The team combine GPS tracking technology and cat-cams with a unique set of scientific experiments. This time they’re tracking, testing, filming and following 100 cats living three very different lifestyles; living cheek-by-jowl in the terraced streets of Brighton city centre, village cats from Rottingdean with far more room to roam, and working farm cats who rely on their hunting skills to survive.

The first episode discovers how our pet cats see, hear and smell very differently to human beings, and how they have evolved as supreme predators. The second episode reveals the way our pampered pets transform into wild animals when they leave the cat flap to hunt and fight, with some displaying more of a wild side than others. The final episode in this science documentary examines the way cats communicate, and how our 21st Century life is forcing them to change their naturally solitary nature.

This revealing practical study into a cat’s ability to live alongside us, yet retain that independent wild side, underlines why cats have become modern humans’ greatest animal friend.

Dr Ellis, from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, appeared in Horizon’s ground-breaking “live study” Secret Life of Cats in 2013.

She was part of a crack team set up to discover what your cat really gets up to when it leaves the cat flap, with pets fitted with specially developed GPS collars and cat-cams to reveal their unique view of our world.

Cat Watch 2014 will screen on BBC Two on Tuesday 7th October at 8pm, Wednesday 8th October at 9pm and Thursday 9th October at 8pm.


Leading the way in animal welfare

A dog rescue charity has changed its visitor policy to improve animal welfare following a joint study with animal behaviour experts from the University of Lincoln, UK.

The academics, from the School of Life Sciences, partnered with Jerry Green Dog Rescue to understand the impact regular visitors to dog kennels had on the dogs’ welfare and behaviour in a six-week research project.

The charity has since introduced the Meet & Match process across its five centres and the research evidence has been presented at the International Veterinary Behaviour Meeting and the Association of Dog and Cat Homes Conference; and was recently published in the international scientific journal Physiology & Behavior.

During the study, behaviour and physiology characteristics of 15 dogs were analysed alongside kennel noise levels and response to human interaction during restricted visitor access and open visitor access.

Restricted visitor access meant dogs were introduced to potential owners on a one-to-one basis away from the kennels, while open visitor access meant that members of the public were able to view dogs unsupervised during a two-and-a-half hour period six days a week.

The results revealed that dogs were significantly quieter and expressed characteristics suggestive of increased relaxation when visitor access was restricted.

David Foulds, Chief Executive of Jerry Green Dog Rescue, said: “The findings of the study completed by the University of Lincoln have had a huge impact on the way we care for our dogs. Dogs that are being rehomed can suffer from stress as they get used to a new environment and new people. We wanted to find ways to improve how we care for our dogs, and this study gave us the opportunity to do so.

“We have introduced restricted visitor access at all five of our centres as a result of the findings. Our Meet & Match scheme makes sure that anyone looking for a dog is interviewed by a member of the team to find out which dog will best suit them. Dogs are then introduced to potential owners in an environment away from the kennels. It’s had a positive impact on the welfare of our dogs and has been recognised by other dog charities as best practice.”

Dr Sarah Ellis, Research Fellow from the School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, said: “We would like to thank the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare who funded such an important study. Collaborating with Jerry Green Dog Rescue has been a fantastic opportunity to carry out a piece of applied research, of which the results have provided a strong evidence base on how to directly improve on kennelled dog welfare.”

Lynn F. Hewison, Hannah F. Wright, Helen E. Zulch, Sarah L.H. Ellis ‘Short term consequences of preventing visitor access to kennels on noise and the behaviour and physiology of dogs housed in a rescue shelter’ Physiology & Behavior

Can you love cats too much?

A study into cat ownership looks at whether people who own an excessive number of cats are on the slippery slope to becoming animal hoarders.

The research investigated whether owners of 20 or more cats were more likely to share the often detrimental psychological and demographic profile of animal hoarders, compared to owners of one or two cats.

Dr Sarah Ellis, from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, was a co-author on the paper which was published in Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin.

Dr Ellis said: “Previous research in the area of animal hoarding has concentrated around extreme cases where authorities have often been alerted of the owners hoarding problem. By this stage, hoarding behaviour is well developed and therefore our ability to understand the development of hoarding behaviours from such research is limited. However, by virtue of the elusive and secretive nature of animal hoarders, identifying the early stages is often difficult so research is scarce. Our study used validated psychometric scales for traits previously reported to be associated with animal hoarding such as anxiety, depression and attachment in addition to a saving inventory used to measure hoarding behaviour in object hoarding. We wanted to find out whether owners of large number of cats were more closely aligned to clinical animal hoarders or more typical cat owners on such measures.”

Pet ownership varies from owners who exhibit typical, healthy relationships with one or relatively few animals – where the needs of both owner and animals are met – to highly dysfunctional clinical cases of animal hoarding, where excessive numbers of animals are owned and both animal and human welfare are severely compromised.

Animal hoarding is a spectrum-based condition in which hoarders are often reported to have had normal and appropriate pet-keeping habits in childhood and early adulthood.

Historically, research has focused largely on well-established clinical animal hoarders with little work targeted towards the onset and development of animal hoarding. This project aimed to fill the knowledge gap.

The study, which was carried out with the University of São Paulo, Brazil took the sample pet owners from a Brazilian population as the ownership of large numbers of animals, particularly cats, is relatively common.

For the first time, it was shown that owners of large numbers of cats differ significantly from owners of one or two cats when considering a range of clinical scales related to hoarding. They were significantly older and more attached to their cats, as well as displaying a relationship between hoarding behaviour and anxiety that was not witnessed in owners of one or two cats.

Hoarders are deeply attached to their pets and find it extremely difficult to let go, not being able to comprehend they are harming their pets by failing to care for them properly.

Dr Ellis said: “The results of this research suggest owners of large numbers of cats may be closer to the end of the pet keeping spectrum that represents animal hoarding than the end that represents appropriate and healthy pet keeping. Therefore, the studied population may represent the understudied group of early stage animal hoarders. However, external factors such as culture and societal animal control policies should not be overlooked as alternative explanations for pet keeping at levels that might be considered excessive, particularly within this population where opportunity to take unwanted animals to rescue centres is limited.”

Dr Daniela Ramos, lead researcher from the University of São Paulo and former Research Fellow at the University of Lincoln, added: “Owners of large numbers of cats are common in Brazil and are frequently seen by vets working in feline specialised practices. Recognising that several of them, particularly the ones who still care for the animals thus taking them to veterinary clinics, are likely to be at early stages of hoarding, points to the important role vets can play by helping their animals while contributing to the prevention of hoarding. At this early stage it may be possible to help by education rather than intervention.”