Research Highlights—Focus on Applied Ethology and Welfare of Animals

In this post, we have compiled a selection of articles belonging to the Special Issue Applied Ethology and Welfare of Animals, one of the most successful Special Issues belonging to the Journal Animals in 2016, according to Altmetric. Moreover, we interviewed Dr. Rachel A. Grant with regards to research related to animal behavior and welfare, particularly when talking about the management of captive or domestic species.

Dr. Rachel A. Grant is the Guest Editor for the Special Issue Applied Ethology and Welfare of Animals. She received her BSc in Biology from the University of Manchester in 1990 and her PhD in Behavioural Ecology from the Open University in 2012, her main specialization being behavioural ecology of amphibians. Currently she is Principal Lecturer at the Department of Animal and Land Sciences, Hartpury College, UK.

Dr. Grant has authored more than 20 peer-reviewed scientific articles and coordinated 4 grant projects, focusing on animal and environmental science. Her main interests cover animal behavior and animal welfare, particularly in non-mammalian species and species that have complex needs in captivity, such as psittacines, amphibians and reptiles.

In 2016, Dr. Grant started her collaboration with MDPI to “stimulate research in the area of animal welfare, in particular the welfare of farm animals, and companion animals and to provide an avenue for dissemination of high quality research”, says Dr. Grant.

In the following, we highlight the latest research in animal behavior and welfare, as reflected by a number of papers highly rated by peer reviewers during the editorial process.

Comparison of Intramuscular or Subcutaneous Injections vs. Castration in Pigs—Impacts on Behavior and Welfare

John McGlone Kimberly Guay and Arlene Garcia

McGlone and coworkers measured the pain and distress of subcutaneous (SQ) and intramuscular (IM) injections compared to physical castration (PC) in pigs and the impact on their behavior and welfare in their latest paper, entitled “Comparison of Intramuscular or Subcutaneous Injections vs. Castration in Pigs—Impacts on Behavior and Welfare”. Physical castration (PC) of male piglets early in life is a common management practice on commercial swine farms, however it is painful and stressful for nursing piglets. An alternative to PC is immunological castration (IC), but the pain and stress of handling associated with injections have not been assessed. Therefore, the authors’ goal was to determine the pain and distress in both piglets and finishing pigs receiving an injection, using physiological and behavioral methods (social and feeding behavior, and signs of pain were monitored). Piglets and finishing pigs were placed in the following treatment groups: no handling or treatment (NO), sham-handling (SHAM), intramuscular injection (IM), subcutaneous injection (SQ), or PC on piglets only. Physical castration caused measurable pain-like behaviors and general behavioral dysregulation at a much higher level than changes associated with handling associated with IM or SQ injections. Overall, injections did not cause a change in weaning pig behaviors. Finishing pigs given SQ injections showed a lower number of feeding behaviors post treatment but other changes were not observed in the other treatment groups. The authors concluded that only a more thorough investigation, including aspects of behavior and physiology of pigs both physically castrated and immunologically castrated could more clearly define if welfare can be improved.

The Effect of Pet Remedy on the Behaviour of the Domestic Dog (Canis familiaris)

Sienna Taylor and Joah Madden

Taylor and Madden investigated the efficacy of a commercial pharmacological intervention, Pet Remedy, advertised as a natural stress relief product for mammals, on the behavior of the domestic dog, in their paper entitled “The Effect of Pet Remedy on the Behavior of the Domestic Dog (Canis familiaris)”. Stress-affected behavior in companion animals can have an adverse effect on animal health and welfare and their relationships with humans. This stress can be addressed using chemical treatments, often in conjunction with behavioral therapies. Pet Remedy (Unex Designs Ltd., Torquay, Devon, UK) is a commercial pharmacological intervention based on the herb valerian (Valeriana officinalis). In order to determine whether the product lowered stress-affected behavior in dogs placed in a non-familiar environment, behavioral responses of 28 dogs were video recorded using a double-blind, placebo-controlled, and counterbalanced repeated measures design. No statistically significant differences were found when dogs were exposed to Pet Remedy or the placebo condition, suggesting that Pet Remedy, in this particular study, did not have a discernible effect on changes in behavior. The authors conclude that future research using a larger sample size and controlling for breed would be beneficial.

An Investigation into the Relationship between Owner Knowledge, Diet, and Dental Disease in Guinea Pigs (Cavia porcellus)

Rosemary Norman and Alison P. Wills

As recent studies have highlighted a high prevalence of dental disease in domestic guinea pigs, Norman and Wills investigated, in their latest paper, the relationship between owner knowledge, diet, and dental disease in guinea pigs. The study aimed to establish whether a relationship exists between the owners’ understanding of the health and husbandry of guinea pigs and clinical signs of dental disease. It was also investigated if a diet high in energy and low in fibre or feeding diets low in calcium and vitamin D have an impact on the presence of dental disease. In total, 150 surveys were completed for 344 guinea pigs, where owners were asked to answer questions on the clinical history of their animals and their diet and management. The authors found that having access to an outside environment, including the use of runs on both concrete and grass, was significantly related to not displaying clinical signs of dental disease. A relationship between diet and dental disease was not identified in this study; however, the underlying aetiological causes of this condition require further investigation. This study highlights the importance of access to the outdoors for the health and welfare of guinea pigs in addition to the need for owners to be alert to key clinical signs.

Factors Which Influence Owners When Deciding to Use Chemotherapy in Terminally Ill Pets

Jane Williams, Catherine Phillips and Hollie Marie Byrd

In their latest study, Williams et al. aimed to explore factors which may influence owners’ decision to elect to undertake chemotherapy in animals, in order to help inform the approaches taken by the veterinary profession.
While chemotherapy is a commonly integrated treatment option within human and animal oncology regimes, limited research has investigated pet owners’ treatment decision-making in animals diagnosed with malignant neoplasia. Dog and cat owners were asked to complete an online questionnaire to elucidate factors which are key to the decision-making process. Seventy-eight respondents completed the questionnaire in full. The results of the study suggested that fifty-eight percent of pet owners would not elect to treat pets with chemotherapy due to the negative impact of the associated side effects. Seventy-two percent of respondents over estimated pet survival time post chemotherapy, indicating a general perception that it would lead to remission or a cure. Vomiting was considered an acceptable side effect but inappetence, weight loss and depression were considered unacceptable. Owners did expect animals’ to be less active, sleep more and play less, but common side effects were not rated as acceptable despite the potential benefits of chemotherapy. Based on the results, veterinary teams involved with oncology consultations should establish if clients have prior experience of cancer treatments and their expectations of survival time. Authors conclude that quality of life assessments should also be implemented during initial oncology consultations and conducted regularly during chemotherapy courses to inform client decision making and to safe guard animal welfare.