• 26 June 2015

Vet symposium probes problem behaviour in dogs, cats and horses

19 June 2014 - CABI, together with the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in London, held a symposium on 17 June exploring behavioural problems in companion animals and leisure horses, and what can be done to resolve these problems. The strong link between poor behaviour and welfare problems was a recurring theme.

Don Broom noted that the term ‘bad behaviour’ is often used to put blame on an animal when the behaviour is often the fault of the owner or other people. Bad behaviour, he said, is mostly a consequence of people failing to provide for an animal’s needs. Of the many reasons for problem behaviour, he highlighted lack of companionship (either from other animals or humans) as a particular concern, particularly for dogs, equines, budgerigars and rabbits. Don Broom also described studies on changes in behaviour and heart rate of dogs after doing something they had been told not to do and discussed whether this could likely be attributed to feelings of guilt or a fear of punishment.

Behaviour problems in multi-cat households were considered by Tammie King of WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition. She noted that while cats often show solitary behaviour, they are also capable of living in groups and co-operating, provided that their environment meets their needs. Many of the undesirable behaviours seen in multi-cat households, such as aggression and inappropriate marking, can be prevented by choosing the right cat, socializing animals at a young age, and providing sufficient space, litter boxes and places to rest, hide and play.

Roly Owers, Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare, said that behavioural issues are an increasing problem in horses, particularly with a trend towards year-round stabling. While equines may be perceived as innately aggressive or ‘naughty’ this is highly unlikely to be the case; the animals are most likely reacting to something such as pain, fear, poor environment or miscommunication. While it can take time to establish the cause of the poor behaviour and resolve it, ignoring it can seriously compromise welfare.

The importance of taking an epidemiological approach to animal welfare and behaviour – considering the occurrence of diseases in different groups of animals, not just thinking of the individual – was explained by Lisa Collins of the University of Lincoln. She spoke about the difficulties in measuring physiological, behavioural and health indicators of welfare, and the need to develop balanced, inclusive scoring systems that are both robust and cheap. She described the development of a ‘quality of life’ assessment tool for use in kennelled dogs. Her research suggested that short-term kennelling does not seem to stress dogs, and may actually be an exciting, stimulating experience for them.

Charlotte Burn, Lecturer in Animal Welfare and Behaviour Science at the RVC, explained that behaviours considered undesirable by owners can be classed as natural (e.g. scent-marking, chewing) or abnormal (e.g. excessive tail-chasing) and that the latter are usually a sign of poor welfare. She highlighted frustration and boredom as prevalent, chronic welfare issues for many captive and companion animals.

Talking about the event, Andrea Powell, CIO and Head of CABI’s Knowledge Business, said: “CABI has been publishing information resources to support animal health research for over 80 years. More recently, we’ve become one of the main publishers of texts in welfare and behaviour. This annual symposium just keeps getting better – it’s one of the ways we help achieve our goal of bridging the gap between research and practice; of showcasing some of the excellent research into animal behaviour that ultimately benefits practising veterinarians and the animals they care for. A good understanding of animal behaviour is essential to ensuring good animal welfare, and today’s event goes some way to improving levels of understanding in the profession.”

The event, Animals Behaving Badly – Veterinary/Welfare Perspectives, was the 4th CABI Symposium on Animal Welfare and Behaviour, and was sponsored by Ceva and chaired by Martin Whiting of the RVC. The symposium also launched the latest edition of Domestic Animal Behaviour and Welfare, by Don Broom and Andrew Fraser.