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A review of behavioural and physiological responses of sheep to stressors to identify potential behavioural signs of distress

By M. S. Cockram

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This paper discusses the potential for using observations of behaviour to recognise distress in sheep. The term distress is used to describe situations in which an animal is likely to be suffering, and is indicating this by overt behavioural signs. Literature on the behavioural responses of sheep to procedures that induce a physiological stress response is reviewed. This approach is based on human analogy and the assumption that physiological changes can be used to differentiate between stimuli that induce an emotional response in sheep and those that do not. The degree to which the behaviour of sheep in certain situations represents, at least in part, an expression of emotional behaviour, or whether it can be fully explained as a functional response to a specific situation, is a fundamental and unresolved question in ethological and psychological studies. Therefore, the validity of compiling a list of objective common behavioural indicators of distress in sheep will be contentious. However, it is important to be able to recognise and deal with suffering, and the use of behavioural methods for the identification of distress in sheep is a practical welfare issue. There is a need for further research to identify indicators of distress in sheep, but in the meantime it would be reasonable to make the judgement that, in some circumstances, sheep that are found to be vocalising, panting, and/or showing markedly increased locomotory activity could be experiencing distress.

Date 2004
Publication Title Animal Welfare
Volume 13
Issue 3
Pages 283-291
ISBN/ISSN 0962-7286
Language English
Author Address Animal Welfare Research Group, Division of Animal Health and Welfare, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, Easter Bush Veterinary Centre, Easter Bush, Roslin, Midlothian EH25 9RG, UK.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal husbandry
  3. Animal rights
  4. Animal welfare
  5. Locomotion
  6. Mammals
  7. peer-reviewed
  8. Respiration
  9. Reviews
  10. Sheep
  11. Stress
  12. Stress response
  13. vocalizations
  1. peer-reviewed