Canis ISSN: 2398-2942

Behavior: assessment

Contributor(s): Karen Overall, Sagi Denenberg

The concern and evolving issues

  • Numerous studies have shown that dogs and cats are fearful and distressed during veterinary exams and when at veterinary practices. 
  • Heightened fear and anxiety may render patients more difficult to transport, manipulate and move through veterinary practices, and to examine thoroughly and safely.
  • Overtly fearful behaviors may obscure behavioral signs of illness and alter laboratory evaluations (eg blood glucose levels in cats).
  • Owners of fearful patients may be less likely to bring them for veterinary evaluation early in the development of any condition because of the difficulty in transporting, managing and manipulating fearful and potentially more reactive dogs and cats.
  • In addition to the medical and behavioral risk created by delaying health checks, veterinary evaluations that the patient perceives as scary, entrapping or terrifying, worsen or create behavioral pathology which may manifest in the form of veterinary specific fears and phobias. 
  • Specific fears and phobias can develop to entering the hospital, to floors, scales, tables and specific processes or procedures. 
  • One of the most common procedures that dogs resist and avoid is nail clipping which usually involves restraint and often involves pain because of abnormal placement of the foot for ease of access by the staff to the nails. Both the pressure on the foot/leg and the torqueing of the foot/limb can be painful. Restraint when 3-legged can provoke fear. Should a blood vessel be cut, the acute and specific pain could readily help to create a phobia.
  • Restraint is often seen to be safe, cost-effective and efficient for veterinary personnel, but patients are not usually assayed for the effects that restraint has on them at the time of the exam and for subsequent evaluations. Cost-effectiveness and efficiency suffer if there are adverse effects of the restraint on the patient’s behavior. If patients learn that veterinary care poses risks of any kind for them, safety suffers.
  • Veterinary teams should not be contributing to creating behavioral pathologies, and instead should be diagnosing, preventing and treating them.
  • Visits to veterinary practices can be scary for patients: the floor is slick, there are strange sounds and smells, there may be reduced inter-personal approach space, they may be unable to choose to move (eg crated), the table is cold and provides poor footing, their people are tense, etc. 
  • Any dog that is not physically ill should be able to happily walk in the door of the hospital. If the patient is shaking, trembling, drooling, hiding, flat on the floor, scanning the environment, urinating, defecating, vomiting or trying to leave, he or she is not enjoying the experience and needs intervention and redress for his distress. 

Data from studies

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Using basic scales to measure behavior

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Using speciality stress scales for more invasive procedures or hospitalization

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Repeated evaluations for use in best practices

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Lind A K, Hydbring-Sandberg E, Forkman B et al (2017) Assessing stress in dogs during a visit to the veterinary clinic: correlations between dog behavior in standardized tests and assessments by veterinary staff and owners. J Vet Behav Clin Appl Res 17, 24-31 VetMedResource.
  • Kuhne F, Hössler J C, Struwe R (2014) Emotions in dogs being petted by a familiar or unfamiliar person: Validating behavioural indicators of emotional states using heart rate variability. Appl Anim Behav Sci 161, 113-120 VetMedResource.
  • Döring D, Roscher A, Scheipl F et al (2009) Fear-related behavior of dogs in veterinary practice. Vet J 182 (1), 38-43 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Overall K L (2013) Manual of Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats. Elsevier.
  • Hernander L (2008) Factors influencing dogs’ stress level in the waiting room at a veterinary clinic. SLU Student report 190, 29 pp; ISSN 1652-280X.
  • fearfreepets.com


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