A look through the latest behaviour literature - Veterinary Practice
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A look through the latest behaviour literature

Our monthly summary of the latest academic publications on this month’s featured topic of behaviour

Method for assessing the sociability of cats before rehoming

Paul Chen and others, Centre for Animal Rehabilitation, Singapore

Successful rehoming of formerly free-roaming cats by welfare centres depends on the animal’s response to humans. But when the animal’s history is unknown, there is no information on its sociability, especially while confined in a cage. The authors describe a rapid criterion-based method for assessing a cat’s behaviour, which may be appropriate for use by staff in a busy cattery. Over a period of five days, observers watched caged cats for evidence that the cat would rub against or initiate contact with a human. Their findings indicate that these criteria could identify well-socialised cats. They also suggest that it is feasible to automatically monitor cats for key in-cage behaviours using artificial intelligence methods.

Applied Animal Behaviour, 265, 105967

Cannabis and melatonin in treating a dog with a compulsive disorder

Luigi Sacchettino and others, Federico II University, Naples, Italy

Compulsive disorders in companion animals involve the constant repetition of behaviours that serve no apparent purpose. These actions may involve, for example, circling, fly biting or self-mutilation, and are presumed to be caused by frustration or anxiety. The authors describe a case of a five-year-old mongrel dog that habitually chased its tail and bit its right hindlimb. The dog was treated with a combination of melatonin and cannabis as part of a tailored behavioural treatment programme after conventional treatment with antidepressants had proved ineffective. Nine months later, the dog was reported to be easier to manage, with a reduction in the frequency of abnormal behaviours to a level acceptable to the owners.

Research in Veterinary Science, 160, 26-29

Behaviour changes in dairy cattle when moved from tied to loose housing

Anne Pavlenko and others, Baltic Vianco Trading, Voru, Estonia

Housing type is known to affect the behaviour, health and productivity of dairy cattle, but there is little information on the impact of changing to a different system. The authors monitored the response of cattle in a 400-head herd after they were moved from a tied to a loose housing system. Their results suggest that the cows found the transition stressful, with an observed increase in behaviours indicative of poor welfare, such as vocalisation and aggression. The cattle also spent less time ruminating, resting and grooming. The cows’ behaviour returned to normal after about two weeks, although issues such as increased cell counts, reduced milk yields and episodes of lameness were apparent for longer periods after the transition in older animals.

Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, 65, 29

Recognising facial expressions linked with frustration and disappointment in horses

Claire Ricci-Bonot and Daniel Mills, University of Lincoln, England

Research into the facial expressions displayed by horses has identified changes that appear to be associated with the experience of pain. However, there is limited reliable information on visual signals that may help detect other emotional states. The authors analysed the facial expressions of horses when anticipating the arrival of food, when the food is delayed and when it does not appear at all. Using the horse Facial Action Coding System (EquiFACS) to analyse the activity of underlying facial muscles, they identified specific facial movements which appear to be associated with frustration at a delay in receiving food or with disappointment when withheld for longer.

Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 265, 105966

Owner-reported changes in mobility and pain caused by degenerative joint disease

Evangelia Maniaki and others, University of Bristol, England

Clinical signs associated with degenerative joint disease in cats may be difficult to identify as they generally hide any signs of pain or disease, and owners may assume that the associated behavioural changes are a normal part of ageing. The authors investigated the value of two questionnaires completed by owners – the Feline Musculoskeletal Pain Index (FMPI) and the VetMetrica system – in identifying cats with painful joints before a full orthopaedic examination. Their results indicate that the FMPI system was effective in differentiating between cats with impaired mobility and healthy animals. Meanwhile, the VetMetrica system could accurately identify cats with a compromised quality of life. Earlier recognition of patients with these changes should allow more effective interventions.

Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 25

Effects of ageing on the health and behaviour of cats

Ivana Hajzler and others, Ministry of Agriculture, Belgrade, Serbia

Age-related deterioration in the function of several different organ systems may become noticeable because of behavioural changes in elderly cats. The authors circulated an online questionnaire to investigate owners’ abilities to recognise age-related changes in the behaviour of a cohort of 206 cats aged nine years or older. Most owners (61 percent) noticed both medical and behavioural changes in their pets. Fifteen percent recognised only medical changes, 10 percent detected only behaviour differences and 14 percent had not recognised any significant changes. These findings suggest that the effects of ageing on cats are unpredictable, so owners and vets need to work together in monitoring changes in individual animals.

Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, 63, 16-21

Influence of animal ownership on mental health in people with severe mental illness

Emily Shoesmith and others, University of York, England

Numerous studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of owning a companion animal on human mental health and well-being. However, there has been relatively little effort to examine how keeping a pet impacted the well-being of those with pre-existing severe mental health illnesses. The authors conducted a survey on the attitudes and experiences of 170 people living with severe mental illness, half of whom owned at least one animal. They found that owning an animal was not significantly associated with well-being, depression, anxiety or loneliness scores in this group. Therefore, their findings challenge widespread assumptions about the value of human–animal relationships in coping with mental health problems.

Human-Animal Interactions, 2, 1-10

Understanding and treating equine behavioural problems

Sharon Carroll and others, University of Queensland, Australia

Behavioural issues, such as biting, kicking or bolting, are common in horses and pose a threat to the safety of the rider. They also increase the likelihood of an animal being rehomed or euthanised. These behaviours can be caused by physiological factors or as a result of inappropriate handling or training techniques. The authors review potential factors associated with the development and maintenance of undesirable behaviours in horses and discuss the options for reducing their frequency or impact. They also examine the potential of psychotropic drugs as an additional component in a behavioural modification strategy for this species.

The Veterinary Journal, 296-297, 105985

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