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News Article

CABI-RVC symposium probes problem behaviour in dogs, cats and horses

Behaviour problems and animal welfare are intrinsically linked.

A symposium organized by CABI and the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) explored behaviour problems in companion animals and leisure horses, and what can be done to resolve them. The strong link between poor behaviour and welfare problems was emphasized during the meeting, held 17 June 2015.

[The recordings of the talks can be seen at : 

http://www.rvc.ac.uk/research/research-centres-and-facilities/rvc-animal-welfare-science-and-ethics/conferences-and-events ].

The event, Animals Behaving Badly – Veterinary/Welfare Perspectives, the 4th CABI Symposium on Animal Welfare and Behaviour, 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.

Dr Charlotte Burn, Lecturer in Animal Welfare and Behaviour Science at the RVC, opened the symposium by explaining that behaviours deemed 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 explained the causes and motivation for bad behaviour, highlighting frustration and boredom as prevalent, chronic welfare issues for many captive and companion animals.

The importance of taking an epidemiological approach to animal welfare and behaviour, not just thinking of the individual, was explained by Dr Lisa Collins of the University of Lincoln. She spoke about the difficulties in measuring physiological, behavioural and health indicators of welfare, and the potential for misinterpretation of data. Scoring systems need to be inclusive, but also robust and cheap she said. She described the development of a quality of life assessment tool for use in kennelled dogs and her research suggesting that short-term kennelling does not seem to stress dogs, and may actually be an exciting, stimulating experience for them (research published in Physiology & Behavior).

Roly Owers, Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare, said that behavioural issues are an increasing problem in equines, particularly with a trend towards year-round stabling. He cited a paper by Hockenhull and Creighton which found stable-related and handling behaviour problems in 82% of the UK leisure horses sampled. 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, Owers said. Whilst it can take time to establish the cause of the poor behaviour and resolve it, ignoring it can seriously compromise welfare.

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

In the final presentation, Professor Don Broom, University of Cambridge, 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. Professor 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.

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • Rachel Wood
  • Date
  • 23 June 2015
  • Subject(s)
  • Dogs, Cats, and other Companion Animals