Maddie's Insights are monthly webcasts with practical tips based on current research to help pets and people. This month's webinar is presented by Dr. Franklin McMillan, DVM.
This webcast was recorded on Thursday, October 6, 2022
Watch the recording here
The experience of unpleasant emotions is often referred to as "emotional pain", such as when someone loses a loved one. The emotions that arise when one's social bonds with another are impaired or lost – such as feelings of isolation, loneliness, and rejection – comprise one type of emotional pain, called "social pain". Recent research has found that the term "pain" is not just a metaphor, but is based on the finding that social pain is processed in the same brain regions where physical pain is processed. In addition, similar drugs can alleviate both physical and social pain. For social species, like elephants, horses, sheep, rats, guinea pigs, dogs, and humans, social pain plays a powerful role in one's well-being and quality of life. For today's domestic dog, the issue may be of greater importance than for any other species on Earth. Evidence indicates that through domestication the emotional bonding propensity of dogs toward humans has been greatly amplified, which appears to have resulted in both greater joy for dogs when in the company of humans, but also greater suffering when denied human companionship. Only by educating all those who care for dogs will "man's best friend" receive the care they so strongly deserve.After viewing the recording, join us right here on Maddie's Pet Forum to continue the discussion.This webinar was recorded and has been pre-approved for 1.0 Certified Animal Welfare Administrator continuing education credits by The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement and by the National Animal Care & Control Association.
Franklin D. McMillan, DVM, served as the director of well-being studies at Best Friends Animal Society from 2007 to 2020. In that role, his research involved the quality of life, mental health, and emotional well-being of animals who had endured hardship, adversity, and psychological trauma. He has published in scientific journals the first studies of dogs rescued from puppy mills, hoarding situations, and abusive environments. The work has included the psychological health of puppies born sold through pet stores or over the Internet. Before coming to Best Friends, he was in private practice for 23 years as well as clinical professor of medicine at the Western University of Health Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. McMillan is board- certified in the veterinary specialties of small animal internal medicine and animal welfare. He lectures worldwide and is the author of the textbook Mental Health and Well-Being in Animals (now in its 2nd edition) and a book for the general public titled Unlocking the Animal Mind.
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The presentation was so fascinating and we went longer than planned. @Franklin McMillan here are questions we did not have time to answer during the live event. Your thoughts are most appreciated!
1. Do you have any suggestion about how to judge spacing, number of animals to include in the space?
2. Where might we find the source for the statement about the social pain connection to overeating in dogs? Does there also seem to be an impact of metabolism that might cause this?
3. Getting dogs placed in adoptive homes often involves a quality/quality trade-off. To set the highest possible standards for adopters in terms of the dog's social environment (especially separation anxiety prevention) means, for example, not adopting to single people who work during the day and can't afford day care. And doing that means fewer adoptions and more shelter euthanasia. Your thoughts more than welcome, especially on lessening the downside for adopted dogs in less than perfect environments.
I still rely on the recommendations made in "Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters" by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians (https://www.sheltervet.org/assets/docs/shelter-standards-oct2011-wforward.pdf). As we learn more about individual needs – which vary according to size of the dog, breed, activity level, personality, and learned experiences – recommendations for space and type of housing will become more refined and personalized.
McMillan FD. 2013. Stress-induced and emotional eating in animals: A review of the experimental evidence and implications for companion animal obesity. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 8:376-385.
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Luño I, Palacio J, García-Belenguer S, González-Martínez Á, Rosado B. 2018. Emotional eating in companion dogs: Owners' perception and relation with feeding habits, eating behavior, and emotional state. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 25:17-23.
Luño, I., Palacio, J., García-Belenguer, S., & Rosado, B. 2019. Baseline and postprandial concentrations of cortisol and ghrelin in companion dogs with chronic stress-related behavioural problems: A preliminary study. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 216:45-51.
Luño I, Muniesa A, Palacio J, García-Belenguer S, Rosado B. 2021. Detection of owner-perceived emotional eating in companion dogs. A regression modelling approach. Veterinary Record e63.
Does there also seem to be an impact of metabolism that might cause this?
Evidence strongly suggests so, although the mechanisms are not well understood. Most of the research has been in rodents, but for dogs see the Luño et al 2019 reference above.
There is no easy answer (and of course no consensus) for the best approach to this dilemma. It's important to note that protecting a dog from social pain is the same concept as protecting against any other form of suffering that a potential adopter may not have the ability or resources to adequately alleviate. We wouldn't adopt an insulin-dependent diabetic dog to someone who can't (or won't) give injections, and we shouldn't adopt a dog to someone who can't or won't tend to their social companionship needs. But while that seems somewhat obvious, that's the easy part. The hard part is determining any one dog's social needs. Certainly for dogs with separation anxiety we know their need is extremely (even pathologically) high, and not only high but specifically directed toward particular persons. And among dogs without separation anxiety, all have different levels for their social companionship needs (just like people do). Accordingly, with regard to this social needs there is no simple formula when matching dogs with adopters. The key concern, and this ties into the "lessening the downside for adopted dogs in less than perfect environments", is to make sure that all potential adopters are well educated about the importance of social needs for every dog's quality of life.
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