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.
Today, research into the welfare of farm and laboratory animals are well-established research areas at universities and other research institutions around the world. Only recently, there has been a growing interest in the welfare of the many animals kept as companion animals, e.g. dogs, cats, rabbits and horses. One of the reasons why the interest in companion animal welfare has not been as pronounced as it is today is the widespread, albeit erroneous, assumption that companion animals are doing well - as they are kept for leisure and not for the sake of money.
For millennia, these animals have lived with humans under completely different conditions. In the transition from being 'useful' animals to becoming family members the animals have been exposed to dramatic and sometimes welfare-compromising changes. They respond with behavioural problems and various forms of lifestyle-related diseases. In addition, and despite good intentions, selective breeding has in many cases had major negative consequences for animal welfare.
Companion animals are in most cases kept by people who feel great love for their animals. However, love, as is well known, can make blind; and sometimes people will project their own needs and expectations onto the animals to the detriment of both animal welfare and the relationship between owner and animal.
The Centre for Companion Animal Welfare will contribute with a diverse set of research initiatives into the welfare of companion animals and work hard to ensure that results are made visible and applied internationally. The research will focus on the direct welfare consequences of the ways in which companion animals are kept, trained, cared for and bred. The animals concerned are dogs, cats, horses and other animals kept as companion or hobby animals.
The following research subjects will be studied in a Danish context but also in the form of international collaborative projects, which provide an opportunity for cross-country comparison.
Rearing and early experiences
Welfare problems often occur when thing goes wrong early in life, e.g. when the animals are taken from their mother, if their mother is stressed or sick, or if appropriate socialisation with humans is not ensured. Import, legal and illegal, especially of young dogs may also have a detrimental effect on the welfare of the animals.
Especially purebred dogs and cats are targets of selective breeding which have shown to be detrimental to their welfare. For example, when extreme breeding goals engender brachycephaly (shorter skull) or fixation of mutation of diseases in small closed populations. Focusing on the appearance of animals has also had undesired behavioural consequences, e.g. higher risk of fear or a tendency to show aggressive behaviour. So-called dangerous dog breeds make up an issue of its own. Selective breeding of sports horses has in some cases made the horses so nervous that they have become dangerous to non-professional riders. It is also a problem in organized dog and horse breeding that a large number of genetic tests are offered for the diagnosis of hereditary diseases, where unfortunately not all tests are equally predictive.
Nutrition and feeding
In the past, there was a major problem with malnourished dogs, cats and horses. Today, the biggest nutritional problems are overfeeding and related problems with overweight and obesity. Obesity in dogs, cats and horses increases the risk of developing e.g. joint problems, arthritis, diabetes, breathing difficulties, pancreatitis and urinary tract disorders. Even moderate obesity has been shown to reduce the lifespan of dogs by up to two years across small and large breeds. For horses, there may also be problems with a concentrated feeding, where the animals cannot not meet their need for grazing.
Training and behaviour problems
A common reason why many companion animals end up being euthanised or relinquished is that they exhibit behaviours that are perceived as problematic by their owners. Many behavioural problems can be prevented through proper training but at the same time, there are training methods in circulation that may worsen the problems and give rise to welfare problems. The use of horses for sports may involve inappropriate training methods, which can impair their welfare.
In some countries, especially in the United States, it is a commonly held view that all companion animals that are not to be used for breeding should be neutered. This view may be justified with regard to cats and horses but is far more problematic and controversial when it comes to dogs. Particularly male dogs are at risk of becoming lethargic and obese if they are neutered.
When animals become seriously ill, they must either be treated or killed. There can be challenges at both ends of the spectrum: on the one hand, there are many sick animals that do not receive the necessary treatment due to ignorance and/or financial inability of owners. On the other hand, the advanced veterinary treatment offered may tempt owners to extend treatment beyond what may be considered ethically sound. Insurance schemes, which are mainly used on horses and dogs, provide financial support and contribute to veterinary diagnosis and correct treatment, but can also create inappropriate incentives in relation to treatment or euthanasia.
Unwanted and stray animals
In a number of cases, humans find themselves forced to part with their animals. In the case of cats, they may end up as stray animals. Dealing with unwanted and stray animals is an important welfare issue, e.g. what is a tolerable limit for staying in a shelter, and also involves ethical dilemmas, e.g. ‘kill’ versus ‘no-kill’.
The research subjects will be studied by the means of a wide range of methods, for example:
- Behavioural studies
- Clinical trials
- Physiological measurements
- Genetic studies
- Questionnaire surveys
- Other social science studies, e.g. collection of information via social media
- Epidemiological studies
The senior researchers involved have extensive experience from interdisciplinary collaboration, which includes several of these methods.
Among students affiliated with Danish Universities within disciplines such as veterinary medicine and biology, there is already a great deal of interest in companion animal welfare. To complete their master’s degree, the students must write a thesis which typically takes four to eight months of full-time work. With a combination of talented students and committed supervisors, such projects can lead to important research that can be published afterwards. The senior researchers involved in the Centre for Companion Animal Welfare have supervised a number of projects and together with the students helped publish the results in international journals.
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.
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.
6. Annual public conference
The annual conference will focus on home alone problems in dogs. Home alone problems, including separation anxiety, is one of the centre's focus areas in 2022. In Denmark, there is a public interest in this topic and at the same time, there is reason to believe that home alone problems / separation anxiety in dogs have increased in scope after the Corona shutdowns. A large number of dog owners worked from home and many newly acquired dogs have therefore never tried to be alone.
7. Three new thesis projects will be completed
So far, the centre has gained a good reputation among the older students in veterinary medicine and a number of other educations, and the number of thesis projects may therefore be much higher.
8. Publication in peer-reviewed international journals
At least four papers will be published in peer-reviewed international journals. At least one paper is based on a thesis project commenced in 2021.
9. Dissemination aimed at professionals and the general public
At least four articles aimed at professionals or the general public in Denmark will be published. The centre will continue to be visible on Twitter and now also LinkedIn, and via interviews in different medias.
10. Master's degree course
The planned 7.5 ECTS master's course in companion animals will be offered in 2022 and work will be done to attract students from a wide range of other programmes.
Björn Forkman is responsible for offering the first edition of the course in 2022. Iben Meyer will assist Björn.
1. Papers in international journals
You can find an updated list of papers in international journals here:
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
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)
Eleven thesis projects are in progress or have been completed. You can find a list of projects (in Danish) on our Danish website:
Center for Forskning i Familiedyrs Velfærd ⇒ Aktiviteter gennemført i 2021
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
All papers published in international journals in 2021 are available here:
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.
The papers written in English are available here:
The papers written in Danish and English are available here:
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. Budget: 230.00 DKK.
- '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.
- Peter Sandøe and Thomas Bøker Lund have established a collaboration with researchers from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna and from the Veterinary School at the University of Glasgow on a project to examine owners' expectations of veterinarians, the use of and attitudes towards health insurance, and owners' use of internet resources when choosing veterinarian and learning about health and disease treatment.
- 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.
- 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.
- Björn Forkman and Peter Sandøe have established collaboration on research in behavioral problems in dogs with researchers from Porto, Liverpool, and Uppsala. The collaboration has so far given rise to an application for funding from the EU, which is coordinated by Porto.
- Iben Meyer, Björn Forkman, and Peter Sandøe have established collaboration with researchers from Barcelona and London on a project in which the connection between behavioral and welfare problems in dogs and the owners' efforts and attitudes are investigated.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- During 2020, four papers have been submitted to international journals with peer review and they have all been published. The research presented in these articles has taken place prior to the establishment of the Center for Companion Animal Welfare, but it is the grant that has enabled the relevant senior researchers to spend time writing the papers:
Jensen JBH, Sandøe P & Nielsen SS. (2020). Owner-related reasons matter more than behavioural problems: A study of why owners relinquished dogs and cats to a Danish Animal Shelter from 1996 to 2017. Animals, 10, 1064.
- Christensen, JW, Beblein, C, Malmkvist, J (2020). Development and consistency of fearfulness in horses from foal to adult. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 1051062.
- Bruun CS, Andersen CM, Marx T, Mark T & Fredholm M. (2020). Breeding schemes for intervertebral disc disease in Dachshunds: Is disc calcification score preferable to genotyping of the FGF4 retrogene insertion on CFA12?. Canine Medicine and Genetics, 7, 18.
- Christensen, JW, Ahrendt, L, Malmkvist, J, Nicol, C (2021). Curious learners: Exploratory behaviour towards novel objects is associated with enhanced learning in young horses. Scientific Reports, 11, 1428.
- Seven publications relevant to professionals or the wider public in Denmark have been published.
- 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.
|Charlotte Reinhard Bjørnvad||Professor||+4535332864|
|Iben Meyer||Assistant Professor||+4530233879|
|Peter Sandøe||Head of Section||+4535333059|
|Søren Saxmose Nielsen||Professor||+4535333096|
|Thomas Bøker Lund||Associate Professor||+4535336861|
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