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Emotional affect and the occurrence of owner reported health problems in the domestic dog

By Sarah Jane Reaney, Helen Zulch, Daniel Mills, Sarah Gardner, Lisa Collins

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Interactions between health, behaviour and individual differences such as; mood, affect or personality have been studied more in humans than they have in non-human animals. In humans, links can be made between personality and the expression of health problems, and between personality, affect, coping, treatment and recovery success. Previous research with animals has shown that personality and mood interact to determine judgement bias and that personality interacts with stress responses and pain expression. This indicates that the way animals deal with life events is dependent on interactions between personality and mood and that pain behaviours observed in animals are not always reflective of disease severity. As such, reliance only on behavioural displays of pain in health assessments, without information on what may mediate or moderate that behaviour makes accurate treatment difficult. The aim of this study was to look at the interactions between the occurrence of health conditions in pet dogs (as reported by their owner), behaviour and the dogs’ score on core (positive and negative) affect. A survey collected information from dog owners about their dog’s breed, sex, age, past and current medical record, occurrence of behaviour, and their dog’s level of positive and negative affect. Nine hundred and forty-three responses were obtained, of which 796 were used in the analysis. Binomial logistic regressions were conducted, with either current or previous experience of a range of general health and pain-causing conditions included as dependent variables, and affectivity domains, aggression and age as independent variables. For most of the general health conditions (with the exception of the dental, vision and hearing problem category), only age was a predictor of both current and previous experience of a health condition. However, positive affect was associated with current experience of a pain-causing condition, with lower positive affect scores being most associated with presence of a current pain-causing condition. Only age was associated with experience of a previous condition. Finally, no difference in aggression scores was observed between dogs in any of the pain experience categories. These results provide novel findings for an association between health problems and affect in dogs.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 196
Pages 76-83
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Aggression
  2. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  3. Canine
  4. Emotions
  5. Health
  6. moods