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How watching TV can help ophthalmologists assess canine visual stimulants

News
Article

New research from the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine looks at screen interaction behavior in dogs

Javier brosch / stock.adobe.com

Javier brosch / stock.adobe.com

The University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) conducted a study on canine vision habits through a dog owner survey published in the Applied Animal Behaviour Science.1 The study looked at dogs’ visual stimulation via video presentation. One of the researchers on the study, Freya Mowat, BVSc, PhD, DECVO, DACVO, MRCVS, veterinary ophthalmologist and professor in the SVM’s department of surgical sciences, explained that the goal of the study was to determine factors that influence a dogs’ interest in interacting with video content and to see if age or vision were related to this behavior.2 And from the results, researchers are hoping to develop more sensitive ways for veterinarians to assess vision in dogs, something that the Wisconsin SVM believes needs more attention in veterinary medicine.

Researchers on the study are taking the knowledge that dogs are attentive to movement on screens3 to see if television or videos can be used to entertain and soothe dogs left home alone. They believe the use of video content as a calming aid for dogs is currently poorly understood at the clinical research level. They were also curious whether video with or without sound is more calming to dogs.1

The method

“The method we currently use to assess vision in dogs is a very low bar. In humans it would be equivalent to saying yes or no if a person was blind,” said Mowat in a university release. “We need more sensitive ways to assess vision in dogs, using a dog eye chart equivalent. We speculate that videos have the potential for sustaining a dog’s attention long enough to assess visual function, but we didn’t know what type of content is most engaging and appealing to dogs.”2

The survey used was a web-based questionnaire with 41 total questions answered by dog owners. The initial 2 questions served to eliminate ineligible dog owners (respondent did not live with their dog, or dog was deemed completely blind per owner response). Subsequent questions (3–13) gathered demographic details about the dogs and their living environments. Questions 14–24 focused on home screens and the dogs' interactions with them. Questions 25–29 asked about which content dogs interacted with and question 30 was an open-ended comments question for owners to provide more details on these interactions. Owners were then given an optional question (question 31) to have their dogs participate in watching 4 videos containing objects moving on the screen (dog, traffic, panther, bird). If participants opted in, questions 32–33 asked which screen type was used to present the videos and which video was watched by the dog. The final 8 questions asked dog owners to rate their dog’s interest in the videos.1

The results

Out of the 1246 responses received, 75 respondents indicated that their dogs exhibited no interest in any of the specified content categories (animals, ball sports, non-ball sports, vehicles, others, classified as "non-watchers"). Additionally, 94 respondents either confirmed no interest or were uncertain about their dogs' interest in the mentioned content categories. Given that the primary objective of this study was to define the characteristics of dogs engaging with screen-based content, responses expressing unknown interest were omitted.1

For the dogs that did show interest, results showed that they were most engaged when watching videos that feature other animals, and content about their own species was the most popular.1 Movement, overall, was a strong motivator for screen attention in dogs. Researchers also found that a majority of dogs typically interacted with the video content for short periods of time.

Television was the most common screen (98%) followed by “other” (not specified), laptop, and tablet. Dogs exhibited a variety of behaviors in response to watching videos and the most common behaviors were to turn the head to the side or move the ears, approach the screen, and vocalize.1

Younger-aged dogs were reported as having higher interaction levels with the video screens than older dogs, however researchers are unsure as to whether this difference is because of perception (visual function), motivation, or behavior.1

“We know that poor vision negatively impacts quality of life in older people, but the effect of aging and vision changes in dogs is largely unknown because we can’t accurately assess it,” Mowat said. “Like people, dogs are living longer and we want to make sure we support a healthier life for them as well.”2

According to Mowat, the Wisconsin University researchers plan to build on the results of this study by focusing future research on the development and optimization of video-based methods that can not only assess changes in visual attention as dogs age but also answer questions that could help senior dogs age as gracefully as possible.2

“Dogs have a much shorter lifespan than their owner, of course, and if there are emerging environmental or lifestyle factors that influence visual aging, it might well show up in our dogs decades before it shows up in us. Our dogs could be our sentinels—the canine in the proverbial coal mine,” Mowat added.2

A more in-depth look at the results of this study can be found in the published Applied Animal Behaviour Science journal.1

References

  1. Donohue LK, Buesing M, Peterson KD, et al. Screen interaction behavior in companion dogs: Results from a dog owner survey. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 2024;270(106151). doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2023.106151
  2. Knowing what dogs like to watch could help veterinarians assess their vision. New release. University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine. January 17, 2024. Accessed February 7, 2024. https://www.vetmed.wisc.edu/knowing-what-dogs-like-to-watch-could-help-veterinarians-assess-their-vision/
  3. Lõoke M, Kanizsàr O, Battaglini L, et al. Are dogs good at spotting movement? Velocity thresholds of motion detection in Canis familiaris, Current Zoology. 2020;66(6):699–701. doi.org/10.1093/cz/zoaa044
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