Centre for Companion Animal Welfare

Welfare problems are widespread among companion animals, often with major consequences for both animals and their owners. Centre for Companion Animal Welfare facilitates research into the nature and scale of the problems and how they are best eliminated or reduced. 

Dog that lies on a sofa
Obesity, behavior problems, and dogs who cannot breathe are some of the issue of interest for the Centre of Companion Animal Welfare 📷 Sébastien Lavalaye // Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Management

The manager of the centre is professor Peter Sandøe and post.doc. Iben Meyer is the deputy manager. They are supported by six additional senior researchers: Professor Søren Saxmose Nielsen, Professor Charlotte Reinhard Bjørnvad, Associate Professor Janne Winther Christensen, Professor Björn Forkman, Professor Merete Fredholm, and Associate Professor Thomas Bøker Lund.

Peter Sandøe spends at least 40% of his working time on work related to the centre. Three months a year he is paid based on centre funds and two months a year his salary is based on co-financing (with one month from each of the institutes he is employed at). The other senior researchers will, in agreement with the centre management, be paid to the extent they contribute.

The centre is affiliated with the Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences at the University of Copenhagen (where Peter, Søren, Björn and Merete are employed) and collaborates with the Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine, University of Copenhagen (where Charlotte is employed), the Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen (where Peter and Thomas are employed), and with the Department of Animal Science, Aarhus University (where Janne is employed).

Peter Sandøe has the overall responsibility of the centre; for planning the centre's research in collaboration with the group of senior researchers and for ensuring public dissemination of research activities, e.g. via this webpage and via an annual conference. Should Peter Sandøe not be able to undertake his position as manager anymore, the deputy manager takes over the responsibility for the centre.

Steering group

At least four times a year, the group of senior researchers meets and plans the centre's work. To ensure the relevance of the centre's work in a Danish context, an advisory group has been set up. The group meets with the group of senior researchers once a year and has the opportunity to comment on completed, ongoing and planned research. The members of the advisory groups are:

  • Christine Fossing, Chair of the Companion Animal Group at the Danish Veterinary Association
  • Jens Jokumsen, Head of companion animals, shelters and education at Animal Protection Denmark
  • Maria Gravgaard Laursen, Veterinarian at the Department for Animal Welfare and Veterinary Medicine, Danish Veterinary and Food Administration
  • Mette Uldahl, Veterinary consultant at the Danish Equestrian Federation
  • Helle Friis Proschowsky, Special Consultant at the Danish Kennel Club
  • Charly Riis, Chair of the Danish Siamese and Orientales Ring Club

Scientific Advisory Board

To strengthen the academic quality and international collaboration, a Scientific Advisory Board is set up. The Scientific Advisory Board consists of the following people:

  • James Serpell, Professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine 
  • Susan Hazel, Senior Lecturer at the School of Animal and Veterinary Science, University of Adelaide
  • Dan O'Neill, Senior Lecturer at the Royal Veterinary College, University of London
  • Uta König von Borstel, Professor at the Justus-Liebig-University of Giessen

 

1. Extract and present results from the completed questionnaire survey of Danes' attitudes to and keeping of companion animals

Scientific papers are prepared on the basis of the completed questionnaire survey on Danes' attitudes to and keeping of companion animals (in Danish). Two of these ideas will be realized in 2022, led by Thomas Bøker Lund with input from other participants in the centre.

So far, three ideas for papers have been formulated:

  • Danes' attitudes to and experiences with dogs. The questionnaire contains a battery of questions, which form the basis for a paper that follows up on a previously published paper about cats.
  • The relationship between keeping companion animals and mental health. A common hypothesis is that companion animals improve people's mental health. This can be studied from the questionnaire, and the hypothesis can be linked to the level of the owner's attachment to the animal.
  • Welfare issues in dogs and what the owners do about them. The questionnaire includes questions about health and behavioral problems in dogs, as well as what the owners are doing or have done to solve these problems. This information will help identify which welfare issues are most common among dogs and how the owners handle such issues.

In addition, data from the questionnaire that are of particular interest to the Danish public will serve as the basis for further analyses. These analyses will be published in the form of a note or a press release to the Danish media. The work is carried out by Thomas Bøker Lund and Peter Sandøe as well as other participants from the centre with specialist knowledge on the topics.

2. Home alone problems - prevalence, causes and avenues for treatment and prevention

Home alone problems, including separation anxiety, are very common in dogs and can have a major negative effect on the well-being of both dogs and owners. Scientific sources estimate that 14-55% of dogs are affected, and we probably only see the tip of the iceberg, as not all owners are aware of the problem.

Scientific studies show that home alone problems seem to cover a wide range of underlying problems such as seperation anxiety, boredom / understimulation, and incorrect training. However, there is a need for more knowledge about the different types of home alone problems, what catalyses the development of home alone problems, and the optimal treatment methods.

A new tool, a monitoring collar that can measure the dogs' activity, temperature, heart rate, breathing etc., will hopefully be used in the project. The project will be led by Iben Meyer with the help of relevant seniors in the centre and hopefully a number of master thesis students. For the collection of data material, there will be collaboration with both private dog owners and a Danish animal protection organisation (Dyreværnet).

3. Online sale of dogs - a retrospective study 2017-2021

A large and growing proportion of the dogs that Danes acquire are bought online. Many of the dogs come from Denmark, but more and more come from kennels abroad. This has given rise to a great deal of concern about the widespread sale of illegally bred and/or illegally imported dogs but so far the concerns have not been confirmed, as most of these sales are kept in the dark.

With the help of Animal Protection Denmark, we have gained access to over 100,000 unique dog ads from two internet sources posted in the years of 2017-2021. A specialist in internet data analysis, Snorre Ralund, is supervising a thesis student and next year, Snorre will provide further analysis and publish the results. The data will be compared with official sources such as the Danish Dog Register and the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration's registrations of imports in the EU registration system TRACES.

4. Veterinary ethics from the point of view of owners of companion animals

Several of the seniors from the centre are collaborating with researchers from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna and from the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Glasgow on a project on veterinary ethics. This project is based on a questionnaire survey of veterinarians in the three countries and the first two international papers have now been published. The findings show that veterinarians try to balance considerations for the patient (the animal), the client (the owner) and the veterinarian's own professional and personal interests. It also appears that veterinarians have different ways of making this trade-off.

The intention is now to conduct a questionnaire survey in the three countries on the same topics, but aimed at veterinarians' clients, i.e. the owners of companion animals. The interesting question is whether the owners share the same considerations as the veterinarians. We envisage a representative questionnaire survey of 500 companion animal owners in each of the three countries. Among the centre's seniors are Thomas Bøker Lund, Svenja Springer, and Peter Sandøe.

5. Research-based advice to owners of companion animals

The primary task of the centre is to conduct research. But a natural task in extension of this could be research-based counseling. We will start with advice on how to activate indoor cats, which will be posted on this page. The information that will be shared is based on a BA thesis, and two scholarships (from Kitty and Viggo Freisleben Jensen Foundation) will finance the work of sharing the information, as well as senior time paid for by the centre.

 

 

Annual conference on the welfare of companion animals

The annual conference was held October 30, 2021 at the research centre Foulum, Aarhus University. The headline of the conference was "Equestrian sports towards 2030". Across the equine world, there is support for ensuring proper welfare of the horses involved in equestrian sports. Highlights of a new EU guide on keeping and training horses was be presented at the conference, as well as input from the Animal Ethics Council, which is currently working on projects relating to horses. Furthermore, results from recent studies of the effect of different training methods and types of equipment on the welfare of sport horses was presented. All this formed the basis for debates on how to ensure acceptable animal welfare in equestrian sports in the future.

More information about the conference (in Danish) and recordings of the presentations (in Danish) can be accessed here: Temamøde om hestesporten frem mod 2030

Questionnaire survey

In the first half of 2021, a representative questionnaire survey of Danes' attitudes to companion animals was conducted. The first results regarding the number of Danish families who keep different animals, and about the owners' relationship to dogs and cats, respectively, can be found here (in Danish): Survey om familiedyr. Over the coming year, a number of scientific publications will be prepared based on the study. The results from this will subsequently be disseminated to a Danish audience.

The themes of the study includes:

  • The prevalence of companion and hobby animals among Danes
  • Procurement conditions (including origin and price)
  • Welfare problems among the animals, e.g. whether and how illness is treated and whether the animal is insured
  • Ownership of different types of animals and possible health effects of keeping animals
  • The general Danish population's attitude towards companion animals (with special focus on dogs)

Student involvement

Two thesis projects have been completed on the two topics: 'Parasites in horses' and 'Pickiness in dogs'.

Dissemination of research

The Center's researchers has presented the research at three different international conferences:

  • Peter Sandøe, ”Pampered pets or poor bastards? Welfare of dogs kept as companion animals”, keynote presentation, Canine Science Forum, 6.-9. July, 2021
  • Janne Winther Christensen, Horse welfare during summer: ”Shelter access reduces insect-avoidance behaviour in pastured horses in Denmark”, International Society for Equitation Science, 20.-21. October, 2021
  • Peter Sandøe (together with three other researchers), ”Positive animal welfare: bridging the gap or raising inequalities worldwide?”, plenary presentation, International Society for Applied Ethology, 2.-6. August, 2021

Papers in international journals

The following papers have been published in 2021 and are available open access from this webpage:

Papers for the wider public

Eleven papers aimed at professionals or the wider public in Denmark have be published, and the Center has been visible on Twitter and via interviews in written and electronic medias.

External funding for projects

  • 'Mapping the status and conditions of rabbits in Denmark and comparing initiatives to ensure the welfare of rabbits across countries' (in Danish). Granted by the Danish Centre for Animal Welfare (ViD). Project leader: Björn Forkman. Budget: DKK 298,800. Runs throughout 2021. Other participants from the Center: Søren Saxmose Nielsen, Cecilie Ravn Skovlund and Peter Sandøe.
  • 'Intervertebral disc herniation in dachshund and coton de tuléar'. Application to Agrias Forskningsfond. Main applicant: Merete Fredholm
  • 'Mapping initiatives to avoid or prevent hereditary diseases and breeding of extreme phenotypes in dogs'. Applied to and granted by the Danish Centre for Animal Welfare (ViD). Project leader: Merete Fredoholm. Budget: 396,000 DKK. Will run throughout 2022. Other participants from the Center: Peter Sandøe.

Strengthening international cooperation

  • Peter Sandøe and Thomas Bøker Lund are collaborating with researchers from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna and from the Veterinary School at the University of Glasgow on a project regarding veterinary ethics, based on a questionnaire survey aimed at small animal practicing veterinarians.
  • Björn Forkman and Peter Sandøe participate in a project consortium led by Paul Hemsworth, University of Melbourne, who has submitted an application to the Australian Research Council entitled: 'The Pet Care Competency Program: Owner behavior change for dog welfare'. Rejection the first time, application resubmitted.
  • 'Love alone is not enough - how early experiences affect fears, stress and unwanted behaviors in domesticated cats'. Application for FORMAS. Project leader: Elin Hirsch. Budget: SKK 6,853,000 Participant from the Center: Björn Forkman. Refusal.
  • 'Welfare aspects of hunting dog training on wild boar and moose in pens - physiological and behavioral studies'. Application for FORMAS. Project leader: Eva Sandberg. Budget: SKK 7,999,000 Participant from the Center: Björn Forkman. Refusal.
  • Björn is co-supervisor for Kim Iversen Bjørnson, PhD student at NMBU with the project 'Automation of dog behavior assessment based on crowdsourcing from dog owners', started in 2021. Main supervisor is Ruth Newberry. Awaiting response.

Establishment of master's course

A 7.5 ECTS master's course in companion animals aimed at students from a wide range of educations has been approved at the University of Copenhagen's Animal Science program. Work will be done to get the course recognized in a number of relevant educations, so that the course can start with a suitably large number of participants in 2022.

 

 

Conferences

  • An opening conference focusing on keeping and managing cats in Denmark was held on 28 November, 2020. Results from research projects were presented and there was a debate with key stakeholders.
  • In collaboration with the Danish Centre for Animal Welfare, a public seminar on behavioral problems in dogs was held on 8 October 2020. Approx. 150 participants participated, the majority were online due to corona restrictions.

Research projects

  • The preparatory work for a large representative questionnaire survey of attitudes to companion animals among the general public and the keeping of companion animals in a Danish context has been carried out. The survey will be completed in the first half of 2021.
  • With support from the Danish Centre for Animal Welfare, a project has been initiated which will serve to map and compare rules and norms for good practice in relation to breeding, sale and keeping of dogs in a number of countries. 
  • In collaboration with ViNordic, which is the Nordic industry organization for manufacturers of medicines for animals, a project has been initiated on the status of cats and dogs in today's Denmark. Via inventories of sales of veterinary medicines on the Danish market, which are made available by ViNordic, it is investigated to what extent there is a difference in the scope of veterinary treatment of dogs and cats, respectively. The hypothesis is that cats receive less veterinary treatment than dogs. 

Student involvement

  • Three master students have finished their thesis projects on:
    • The occurrence of a hereditary eye disorder in labrador retrievers and the possibility of preventing it via a genetic test
  • Three master students have finished their thesis projects on:
    • The occurrence of behavioral problems in dogs with a focus on separation anxiety
    • Stress-physiological and behavioral reactions in dogs when playing
    • A comparison of the effects of surgical and non-surgical insemination of greyhound bitches in the Australian greyhound industry

International papers

National publications

  • Seven publications relevant to professionals or the wider public in Denmark have been published.

Master's course

  • A 7,5 ECTS master's course in companion animals aimed at students from a wide range of disciplines has been planned and is awaiting the final approvals. The course will primarily be web-based.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Senior researchers

Internal

Name Title Phone E-mail
Björn Forkman Professor +4535333581 E-mail
Charlotte Reinhard Bjørnvad Professor +4535332864 E-mail
Iben Meyer Assistant Professor +4530233879 E-mail
Merete Fredholm Professor +4535333074 E-mail
Peter Sandøe Head of Section +4535333059 E-mail
Søren Saxmose Nielsen Professor +4535333096 E-mail
Thomas Bøker Lund Associate Professor +4535336861 E-mail

External

Navn Titel Telefon E-mail
Janne Winther Christensen Lektor +45 87158075 E-mail

Funding

Centre for Companion Animal Welfare has received funding to cover the costs of establishment and operation from Skibsreder Per Henriksen, R. og Hustrus Fond.

Centre name: Centre for Companion Animal Welfare
Start: Januar 1, 2020 

Contact

Peter Sandøe, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

pes@sund.ku.dk 
+45 35 33 30 59