Seeking consistency from owners in dealing with problems - Veterinary Practice
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Seeking consistency from owners in dealing with problems

FRANCESCA RICCOMINI continues her reports from the recent International Veterinary Behaviour Meeting

Another stimulating day began with three interesting papers related to “Influences of the client on behaviour”, evidently an important issue in any field of veterinary endeavour but of especial relevance when working with those owners who are experiencing problems with their pets’ behaviour.

Despite their best efforts there is invariably a significant management and relationship component to any such problem and it is after all upon them that the burden of instigating and consistently maintaining any dedicated behaviour programme necessary to resolve their difficulties falls.

Jenna Kiddie, an inaugural member of the FAB’s behaviour expert panel, who is now at the RVC, discussed “Owner reported coping styles and occurrence of undesirable behaviours in domestic cats”.

Ruth Jobling, another member of the University of Chester’s team, then followed with “Adherence to advice of horse behaviour counsellors”, before Kate Thompson, a practising behaviour counsellor and valued full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC), concluded the session with “Training engagement and the development of behaviour problems in the dog: a longitudinal study”.

Rabbits, calves and cats

Next, a “Stress management” theme gave us Natalie Lisiewicz, a UK veterinarian, introducing a lapine dimension with her study of “Social stress in rabbits”. She began by explaining that she had chosen this species because she likes rabbits and “thinks they are often badly treated”, a view with which we would all no doubt concur.

After this, Maria Christina Ossella reminded us that it isn’t only the behaviour of companion animal species that deserves scrutiny, particularly in welfare terms, when she introduced another “novel” species with “Behaviour and welfare in Valdostana calves (Castana and Pezzata Rossa breeds): a comparison of two housing systems”.

She explained that these two Italian breeds are selected primarily for milk for production of the local Fontina cheese in the Alpine summer pasture system. Apparently they also have a secondary purpose as meat and milk producers in these regions where the land and weather conditions are not conducive to outdoor early rearing.

The need to house young animals indoors evidently gives rise to possible risks of compromised welfare with repetitive/compulsive behaviour development one potential indicator. The presented study compared the traditional system whereby calves between two and six months of age are permanently tethered in stalls with an alternative system where animals are housed in groups according to current legislation.

Illustrating her presentation with video footage featuring the restful sounds of contented cattle, the passion that drives her professional endeavours was all too apparent in Maria Christina’s accompanying commentary.

Interestingly, she explained that some of the results proved surprising and more complex than might have been expected with stereotypic behaviours, such as tongue rolling, being seen in the group of housed animals to a greater degree than those tethered, although the latter were physically able to perform them.

It was postulated that this was influenced by the fact that they still had contact with other cattle and sufficient space to stand up, lie down and for exercise.

Our brief bovine sojourn over, we returned to cats with Gemma Patel from Liverpool University and her “Pilot study to investigate whether a feline pheromone analogue reduces anxiety-related behaviour during clinical examination of cats in a rescue shelter”.

The afternoon resumed with “Behavioural psychology”. One of the doyennes of the behaviour field, the USA’s own Karen Overall, discussed her work “Phenotypic determination of noise reactivity in three breeds of working dogs: implications for identifying genomic regions of interest”, which was inspired by the sterling efforts of the search and rescue dogs in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York.

Belén Rosado then reported on a Spanish team’s study “The role of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in canine aggression towards humans”, after which France’s Claude Beata asked, “Are T4 or prolactin levels good indicators of the state of anxiety?” He was followed by Sagi Dagenberg, now a colleague of Gary Landsberg in Toronto, with “Longitudinal magnetic resonance spectroscopy changes in aged Beagle dogs”, obviously a topic of particular interest due to our expanding population of geriatric pets and the rightly increased expectations and demands of their owners.

Another French colleague, the ever entertaining Patrick Pageat discussed “the effect of feline interdigital semiochemicals with primers in relation to scratching marking”, before the concluding presentation ahead of a break from the same institution, “The maternal cat appeasing pheromone: exploratory study of the effects of aggressive and affiliative interactions in cats” with Alessandro Cozzi.

For those of us who qualified when women in the veterinary profession were far outnumbered by men, it was something of a surprise to realise that we had reached the afternoon of the second day of an international conference before we had encountered any male speakers!

Animal management and behaviour

Another Lincoln-ite, Laura Dixon, began the last session asking, “Is space important?” Her question was posed in relation to “assessing the spatial needs of pet rabbits”. She was followed by the first of Joanna Hockenhull’s contributions related to her PhD thesis: “Management routine risk factors associated with handling and stable-related behaviour problems in UK leisure horses”.

Her colleague and supervisor Emma Creighton presented this and her second contribution, “Equipment and training risk factors associated with ridden behaviour problems in UK leisure horses”, in Joanna’s absence. Lastly came a welcome return to felines with Sarah Ellis, another FAB behaviour expert panel member, and “The effects of a novel feeding device on the behaviour of domestic cats”.

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