We might be able to add another negative effect of climate change. This time, it apparently affects our relationship with man’s best friend.
Dogs bite more on warm, sunny days, and when air pollution is high. This is shown in a new study published in Scientific Reports.
The study collected data from emergency rooms and animal welfare agencies in eight major American cities from 2009 to 2018, including New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
Do Dogs Bite More When It’s Hot?
The results indicate an 11 percent rise in dog bites on days with a high UV index, a four percent increase on hot days, and a three percent surge on days with elevated ozone levels. These findings persisted even when other influential factors were accounted for.
Researchers suggest that dogs and humans may have more hostile interactions during warm, sunny days and when air pollution levels are high. Notably, dogs aren’t the only species affected by rising temperatures. Studies have demonstrated that humans, rhesus monkeys, rats, and mice also exhibit increased aggression as temperatures climb.
So, what’s the underlying cause? Could climate change and escalating temperatures be contributing to a world where dogs, and animals in general, are more aggressive? Or is it simply that dogs are outdoors more frequently with their owners on pleasant days, leading to a higher likelihood of incidents?
Iben Meyer, a veterinarian with a Ph.D. in ethology and an adjunct at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Veterinary and Animal Science, sheds some light on the matter.
When the weather is favorable, there’s a surge of people outdoors, leading to more interactions between humans and dogs. This increases the chances of bites.
Meyer also notes that all kinds of behavioral issues intensify under stress. When animals are stressed, their tolerance levels drop, and they react more readily to triggers. Heat, being a stressor, can disrupt this balance.
However, Meyer emphasizes that this study alone doesn’t establish a direct link – what researchers term causality – between warmer weather, high UV index, air pollution, and the increase in dog bites.
Not All Dogs Like to Be Touched
Iben Meyer points out that the study underscores the significance of how we perceive and engage with dogs, especially in public areas.
Understanding a dog’s communication can prevent many dog bites. Typically, a bite is a dog’s final effort to indicate its need for space. Prior to resorting to biting, dogs display more subtle cues, often called calming signals.
These signals encompass behaviors such as:
- Laying their ears back
- Licking their lips
- Looking away
- Tucking their tail or attempting to appear smaller
If these signals are ignored, the dog might begin to bark, and if still unheeded, may resort to biting. It’s also worth noting that some dogs may have a shorter fuse than others.
Meyer emphasizes the realization that not all dogs want to be petted. With the insights from this study, she suggests exercising added caution on warmer days.
However, she notes that the study doesn’t provide extensive guidance on altering our interactions with dogs. Meyer believes that wasn’t the study’s primary intent. Instead, she views the research as a call to attention regarding climate change.
It highlights another potential adverse consequence of air pollution and the broader impacts of a changing climate, she concludes.
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