MTA-ELTE "Lendület" Momentum Companion Animal Research Group
Principal Investigator: Dr. Kubinyi Enikő
Funding: Hungarian Academy of Sciences Momentum "Lendület" Program
Brief summary of the project
More cats and dogs live in European households than children, and many owners say their pet is a “family member”. This is a recent and, up to now, unexplained trend. A novel theoretical framework is proposed based on the hypothesis that this new form of pet (or companion animal) keeping has emerged as a cultural runaway due to humans' innate preference for nurturing, the lack of kin, and the absence of economic constraints. We examine how current breeding and keeping practices affect the cognition, health, and physiology of pets and their owners' social networks and well-being. We outline an interdisciplinary work plan by integrating ethology, sociology, neuroscience, and genetics techniques. We expect to disentangle the costs and benefits of pet keeping to humans and animals in well-characterized human populations. Intelligent collars and video tracking designed to categorize animal behaviour automatically will be developed from data from our studies. Our integrative approach improves animal welfare in line with the One-Health concept, informs policymakers, and provides science-based evidence for pet-keeping-related decisions.
Aim and major research questions
Pet keeping with a humanising attitude is an explosive trend in industrialised countries, but its driving forces, costs and benefits for pets and owners are largely unexplored. This topic is important both from an academic as well as applied (economical, environmental, welfare) perspective.
We aim to investigate pet keeping in our cultural runaway theory framework, which can provide direct predictions regarding future trends in pet keeping.
Most research in this area has been anthropocentric and focused on subjective evaluations. For the first time, we present an overarching hypothesis to call for systematic investigations into:
(1) Human well-being. The role of pets in human societies. What is the relationship between pet keeping, human fertility, and social networks? Can pets really replace kin or friends? Do they help or prevent local clustering in social networks? Can a cost-benefit assessment explain pet rejection or human-animal relationship satisfaction?
(2) Animal welfare. How does selection for, e.g., infant-like features affect pets’ health, brain morphology, behaviour, sensory capacities (e.g., olfaction), cognition, and communication with humans? How do the anthropomorphic attitude of owners and the associated keeping practices affect the welfare of pets?
Overview of the projects
Our hypotheses regarding animal-human interactions, effects of pet keeping on human well-being and social network quality are derived from our main theoretical framework – the pet-keeping runaway theory. Research addressing this theory will be directly covered under Objective 1: Human well-being: Social networks and cost-benefits of pet keeping (see fig.).
The recent change in pet-keeping trends also affects common pet species' keeping and breeding practices. The consequences for the animals’ well-being, physiology, behaviour and cognition are not yet fully mapped. Under Objective 2: Animal welfare: Effects of selection and keeping practices on the behaviour, brain, and welfare of pets, we plan research which will aim to map the genetic, neuro-anatomical, behavioural and cognitive changes associated with modern breeding, in particular focusing on breed clusters in the dog defined either by head shape – a proxy for desirable, childlike features, or defined by genetic proximity to the wild ancestor (the wolf).
Theoretical and practical significance: Human-animal interactions are frequent and affect many areas of life, but the effects on human well-being, social networks and animal welfare are understudied. The questions put forward are essential for the well-being of both humans and pets.
Novelty: How will the proposal go beyond state of the art? 1) The application of social network analysis and 2) relying on the Canine Tissue and Brain Bank stand out as the most interesting and novel approaches. 3) The neuro-anatomic and genetic components related to selecting human-like characteristics in dogs and other pet species are largely unexplored. 4) The novel runaway theory provides a theoretical framework combining evolutionary and ecological approaches.
Video introducing the project (subtitles in 20 languages, audio: Hungarian):
- Dr. Enikő Kubinyi, ethologist, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dr. Borbála Turcsán, ethologist
- Dr. Dávid Jónás, bioinformatician
- Dr. Sára Sándor, geneticist
- Dr. Tamás Faragó, ethologist
- Dr. Kálmán Czeibert, veterinarian, neuroanatomist
- Dr. Ivaylo Iotchev, psychologist, neuroscientist, ethologist
- Dr. Dorottya Ujfalussy, ethologist
- Andrea Temesi, ethologist, pre-doc
- Zsófia Bognár
- Tóth Kata
- Viktória Balatonfüredi
- Laura Gillet
- Barbara Simon, MSc
- Balázs Szigeti, MSc
- Zoller Kata, BSc
- Martin Sziráczki
- Emese Laborczi
- Rita Lenkei, ethologist pre-doc