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Is Your Family Pet Moonstruck?

February 4, 2015

By Edward Snow   

Add small animals to the growing list of creatures that appear to be moonstruck when Luna’s face is full.

In a column for AccuWeather.com, staff writer Kevin Byrne recently described a 10-year retrospective study at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in Fort Collins. The study was authored by Dr. Raegan Wells, who currently is the chief medical officer at Emergency Animal Clinic in Phoenix.

The study shows a possible link between an increase in emergency room visits for dogs and cats during days when the moon is at or near it fullest, Byrne reported.

In 2007, Dr. Wells and colleagues at the university retroactively checked out nearly 12,000 case histories of dogs and cats treated at the university’s Veterinary Medical Clinic over a 10-year period between 1992 and 2002.

The type of emergencies considered by the researchers ranged from animal bites to epileptic seizures and trauma. The study found that the risk of emergencies on fuller moon days was 23 percent greater in cats and 28 percent greater in dogs when compared with other days.

Significant Statistical Result

In other words, the researchers reported a significant statistical result. However, curiously, news of this development did not begin turning up in industry trade journals for another five years.

“If you talk to any person, from kennel help, nurse, front-desk person to doctor you frequently hear this comment on a busy night: ‘Gee, is it a full moon tonight?’ There is the belief that things are busier on full moon nights. Only what’s behind the correlation isn’t clear. It’s difficult to interpret the clinical significance of these findings,” Dr. Wells opined.

The Emergency Room veterinarian writes that many studies have investigated the effect of the moon on human behavior and various medical problems, with evidence both supporting and refuting the effect. Presumably, the researchers were expecting a different result and were at a loss for what to say.

Dr. Wells did theorize that on full moon nights, due to increased luminosity, some animals may stay out longer and remain more active, thus being more likely to be traumatized or injured.  But she swiftly countered that the study was performed in Fort Collins where there was lots of artificial light due to its urban setting. “So it’s hard to assume moonlight was a factor,” she said.

The clinicians summed up the study’s practical implications in this way:

“In a facility with a low caseload it’s unlikely an attending clinician would notice the fractional increase in visits. However, in a facility with a robust emergency caseload, these results could lead to reorganization of staffing on fuller moon dates.”

It was suggested that replication of the study’s results would be needed to validate or bolster these findings. To this point no such effort has been made.

Sleep Patterns Tested

The Colorado veterinarians are not the only researchers to come up with a scientific finding involving the lunar cycle that is difficult to explain to skeptical colleagues. At the University of Basel in Switzerland, research psychiatrist Christian Cajorchen and colleagues set out to discredit the full moon’s impact on sleep patterns but found they were unable to do so.

Professor Cajorchen uses the university’s sleep laboratory to study sleep patterns and circadian rhythms. On a night when the moon was full the professor and a few of his colleagues were having drinks in a near-by pub when someone mentioned they slept less well when the moon was full. Dr. Cajorchen realized he had enough data from an earlier experiment to test this hypothesis, and moved on his decision to do so straight away. The effect he found was so surprising he worried that peers in the industry might think he was a “lunatic.”

In his test Prof. Cajorchen used data collected 10 years earlier for another study. Thirty-three participants between the ages of 12 and 75 were grouped based on whether the moon was new or full when they entered the laboratory for extended testing. He found that those who came into the sleep laboratory during a full moon took five minutes longer to fall asleep and had 20 minutes less sleep on average. More significantly, these test subjects spent 30 percent less time in restful deep sleep than those who entered the sleep lab during a different lunar phase.

“It was a quite considerable effect,” Prof. Cajorchen told the London Times.

But not surprising, astrologers say. On a clear night the full moon puts on display one of the more powerful, tension-producing aspects astrologers are called upon to delineate. A full moon means the sun (individual vitality) and moon (emotional needs) are stressfully posited 180 degrees apart in opposing astrological signs. The dynamic energy generated by this alignment can stir things up dramatically, even as we dream the night away.

A Dreamy Discovery

This was demonstrated in yet another study, this time at the University of Hertfordshire near London. Here Professor Richard Wiseman teamed-up with app developers YUZA to create “Dream:ON” – an iPhone app that monitors a person during sleep and plays a carefully crafted “soundscape” when they dream. Each soundscape was carefully designed to evoke a pleasant scenario, such as a walk in the woods, or lying on a beach. At the end of the dream, the app sounded a gentle alarm and prompted the person to submit a description of their dream.

Professor Wiseman reports that the app was downloaded more than 500,000 times and millions of dream reports were collected. What the researchers learned is that the soundscapes really did influence people’s dreams in the ways expected. Those who chose the nature soundscape were more likely to have a dream about greenery and flowers while those listening to a beach soundscape were more likely to dream about the sun beating down on their skin.

But there was this glitch. Prof. Wiseman says researchers discovered that people’s dreams were especially bizarre around the time of a full moon. Go figure!

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