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Behavioural and physiological responses to an acute stressor in crib-biting and control horses

By I. Bachmann, P. Bernasconi, R. Herrmann, M. A. Weishaupt, M. Stauffacher

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The responses of eleven pairs of crib-biting and non-crib-biting horses (controls) to an arousal-inducing stimulus were studied. Video-observation of the horses revealed that crib-biting horses spent between 10.4 and 64.7% of their stabling time performing the stereotypy. During the first 2 days of an experimental period, the horses were conditioned to receive food from a special bucket. On the third day the food bucket was presented, but the horses were not allowed to feed. Arousal behaviour and crib-biting intensity as well as plasma cortisol concentration, heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) were recorded at rest, and during and after presentation of the food stimulus. The stimulus induced a significant increase of HR and arousal behaviour in crib-biters and in controls, whereas the crib-biting frequency decreased. Power spectral analysis of the HRV revealed significant differences between crib-biters and controls at rest: crib-biters had a lower vagal tone (high frequency component, HF) and a higher sympathetic tone (low frequency component, LF) than controls. The lower basal parasympathetic activity might be an indication why crib-biting horses, in contrast to the controls, showed neither a significant decrease of the HF component during presentation of the food stimulus nor an increase of the HF component after presentation. Thus, there might be differences in the tuning of the autonomous nervous system and of the stress reactivity in crib-biting and in control horses. The results suggest that the crib-biting horses are more stress sensitive and physiologically and psychologically less flexible than the control horses.

Date 2003
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 82
Issue 4
Pages 297-311
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/S0168-1591(03)00086-8
Language English
Author Address Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Institute of Animal Science (INW), Physiology & Animal Husbandry, ETH Zentrum LFW B55.1, CH-8092 Zurich,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Abnormal behavior
  2. Animal diseases
  3. Animal physiology
  4. Animal roles
  5. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  6. Blood
  7. Cortisol
  8. Deviant behavior
  9. Heart rate
  10. Horses
  11. Hydrocortisone
  12. Mammals
  13. stimuli
  14. Stress