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Developing Diagnostic Frameworks in Veterinary Behavioral Medicine: Disambiguating Separation Related Problems in Dogs

By Luciana S. de Assis, Raquel Matos, Thomas W. Pike, Oliver H. P. Burman, Daniel S. Mills

Category Journal Articles

Diagnoses are widely used in both human and veterinary medicine to describe the
nature of a condition; by contrast, syndromes are collections of signs that consistently
occur together to form a characteristic presentation. Treatment of syndromes, due to
either their lack of a clear biological cause or multiple causes, necessarily remains
non-specific. However, the discovery of interventions may help refine the definition
of a syndrome into a diagnosis. Within the field of veterinary behavioral medicine,
separation related problems (SRPs) provide a good example of a syndrome. We
describe here a comprehensive process to develop a diagnostic framework (including
quality control assessments), for disambiguating the signs of SRPs as an example of a
heterogeneous behavioral syndrome in non-human animals requiring greater diagnostic
and treatment precision. To do this we developed an online questionnaire (243 items)
that covered the full spectrum of theoretical bases to the syndrome and undertook a
large-scale survey of the presenting signs of dogs with one or more of the signs of
SRPs (n = 2,757). Principal components analysis (n1= 345), replicated in a second
sample (n2 = 417; total n = 762), was used to define the structure of variation in
behavioral presentation, while hierarchical agglomerative cluster analysis cross checked
with the partitioned around medoids method was used to determine sub-populations.
A total of 54 signs were of value in defining a latent structure consisting of seven
principal components (termed “exit frustration,” “social panic,” “elimination,” “redirected
frustration,” “reactive communication,” “immediate frustration,” “noise sensitivity”), which
divided the population in four clusters (termed “exit frustration,” “redirected reactive,”
“reactive inhibited” and “boredom” related SRPs) with 11 sub-clusters (3, 3, 3, and 2,
respectively). We used a bottom-up data-driven approach with numerous quality checks
for the definition of robust clusters to provide a robust methodology for nosological
studies in veterinary behavioralmedicine, that can extend our understanding of the nature
of problems beyond SRPs. This provides a solid foundation for future work examining
aetiological, and differential treatment outcomes, that will allow both more effective
treatment and prevention programmes, based on a fully appreciation of the nature of
the problem of concern.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2020
Publication Title Frontiers in Veterinary Science
Volume 6
Pages 20
DOI 10.3389/fvets.2019.00499
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Behavioral disorders
  3. Dogs
  4. Emotions
  5. Mammals
  6. open access
  7. Pets and companion animals
  8. Separation anxiety
  1. open access