William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital

Photo: Behavior Medicine Image
Behavior Medicine


Dog Park Study Results

Completed research in Clinical Animal Behavior

Frequency of Parvovirus in Vaccinated Puppies that Attended Puppy Socialization Classes

Meredith E. Stepita, Melissa J. Bain, Philip H. Kass. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association 2013, 49(2): 95-100.

Socialization is one method of preventing behavior problems in dogs; however, some oppose socialization before 16 wk of age due to the risk of contracting infectious diseases. The objectives of this study were to determine if puppies that attended puppy socialization classes and were vaccinated by a veterinarian at least once were at an increased risk of confirmed canine parvovirus (CPV) infection compared with puppies that did not attend classes and to determine the frequency of suspected CPV infection in puppies vaccinated at least once that attended classes with trainers. Twenty-one clinics in four cities in the United States provided information regarding demographics, vaccination, CPV diagnosis, and class attendance for puppies ≤ 16 wk of age. In addition, 24 trainers in those same cities collected similar information on puppies that attended their classes. In total, 279 puppies attended socialization classes and none were suspected of or diagnosed with CPV infection. Results indicated that vaccinated puppies attending socialization classes were at no greater risk of CPV infection than vaccinated puppies that did not attend those classes.


Owner Attachment and Problem Behaviors Related to Relinquishment and Training Techniques of Dogs

Jennifer Y. Kwan, Melissa J. Bain, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 2013, 16(2)

Problematic behaviors are a significant reason for relinquishment, and relinquished dogs are more likely to have problem behaviors. This study utilized standardized surveys of owners (companion animal guardians) relinquishing their dogs to shelters and dog owners visiting vaccination clinics. "Relinquishing" and "continuing" owners were asked questions in the following categories: demographic information, training methods and tools, frequencies in which their dogs engaged in problematic behaviors, and attachment to their dogs. "Relinquishers"; were also asked to provide their reasons for relinquishment. The results of 129 surveys (80 relinquishing and 49 continuing) showed that relinquishers scored lower on companion animal attachment than continuing owners. Pit bull-type dogs were represented more in the relinquishing group. Relinquished dogs were no less likely to have attended training classes than continuing dogs. In both groups, owners who used punishment-based collars reported less satisfaction with their dogs' overall and leash-walking behaviors. Pit bull-type dogs were reported to be no less well behaved compared with all other breeds combined. Sixty-five percent of relinquishers reported some behavioral reason for relinquishment. Forty-eight percent of relinquishers indicated that at least 1 problem behavior was a strong influence on their decision to relinquish.


Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers

Gretel Torres de la Riva, Benjamin L. Hart, Thomas B. Farver, Anita M. Oberbauer, Locksley L. McV. Messam, Neil Willits, Lynette A. Hart, Plos One, 2013.

In contrast to European countries, the overwhelming majority of dogs in the U.S. are neutered (including spaying), usually done before one year of age. Given the importance of gonadal hormones in growth and development, this cultural contrast invites an analysis of the multiple organ systems that may be adversely affected by neutering. Using a single breed-specific dataset, the objective was to examine the variables of gender and age at the time of neutering versus leaving dogs gonadally intact, on all diseases occurring with sufficient frequency for statistical analyses. Given its popularity and vulnerability to various cancers and joint disorders, the Golden Retriever was chosen for this study. Veterinary hospital records of 759 client-owned, intact and neutered female and male dogs, 1–8 years old, were examined for diagnoses of hip dysplasia (HD), cranial cruciate ligament tear (CCL), lymphosarcoma (LSA), hemangiosarcoma (HSA), and mast cell tumor (MCT). Patients were classified as intact, or neutered early (<12 mo) or late (≥12 mo). Statistical analyses involved survival analyses and incidence rate comparisons. Outcomes at the 5 percent level of significance are reported. Of early-neutered males, 10 percent were diagnosed with HD, double the occurrence in intact males. There were no cases of CCL diagnosed in intact males or females, but in early-neutered males and females the occurrences were 5 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Almost 10 percent of early-neutered males were diagnosed with LSA, 3 times more than intact males. The percentage of HSA cases in late-neutered females (about 8 percent) was 4 times more than intact and early-neutered females. There were no cases of MCT in intact females, but the occurrence was nearly 6 percent in late-neutered females. The results have health implications for Golden Retriever companion and service dogs, and for oncologists using dogs as models of cancers that occur in humans.


Retrospective evaluation of crib-biting and windsucking behaviours and owner-perceived behavioural traits as risk factors for colic in horses

 Rachel Malamed, Jeannine Berger, Melissa J. Bain, Philip Kass, S. J. Spier, Equine Vet J, 42(8): 686-92.

Objectives: To investigate: a relationship between cribbing/windsucking and colic; a relationship between cribbing/windsucking and different types of colic, both medical and surgical; and whether horses displaying specific behaviour traits were more likely to have had colic.

Results: Cribbing/windsucking was significantly associated with colic but was unassociated with one category or severity of colic over another. No other repetitive behaviour was associated with colic. Age (> 20 years) was significantly associated with colic. An anxious temperament was not associated with risk of colic.

Conclusion and Potential Relevance: Animals at higher risk for colic may be identified based on history of cribbing/windsucking behaviour, but this behaviour was unassociated with increased risk for a particular category or severity of colic. Horses characterised as being more anxious were not at increased risk for colic. There is a need to elucidate a causal relationship between cribbing/windsucking and gastrointestinal function as development of more effective and humane strategies to treat cribbing/windsucking behaviour may help to improve equine welfare and reduce the risk of colic.


Evaluation of owner attachment to dogs on the basis of whether owners are legally considered guardians of their pets

Timothy D. Helms, Melissa J. Bain, JAVMA, 2009, Vol. 234, No. 7, Pages 896-900

Objective—To evaluate whether dog owners who are legally considered guardians are more attached to their dogs than those who are not.

Results The degree to which owners were attached to their dog was associated with city of residence, owner age, and whether owners were completely satisfied with their dog's behavior. Owners residing in the guardian city had a lower attachment score. There was no significant difference in the percentage of dogs vaccinated against rabies in each city, nor was there any difference in the percentage of licensed dogs. Attachment scores did not differ between participants who visited mobile versus free-standing clinics. Owners with > 1 dog in their household reported a higher degree of attachment to the study dog than did owners of 1 dog.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance Dog owners residing in a city where owners were legally designated as an owner/guardian were no more attached to their dog than those living in a city without such a designation. Although results did not indicate a negative impact of the term guardian, its use was not associated with an enhanced bond between owner and dog.


Evaluation of a behavioral assessment questionnaire for use in the characterization of behavioral problems of dogs relinquished to animal shelters

Sheila A. Segurson, DVM, James A. Serpell, PhD, Benjamin L. Hart, DVM, PhD, DACVB J Am Vet Med Assoc 2005;227:1755–1761

Objective—To evaluate a behavioral intake questionnaire in animal shelters for the presence of biased results and assess its use in the characterization of behavioral problems of dogs relinquished to shelters.

Results—Analyses revealed significant differences in 2 areas of reported problem behavior between the confidential and nonconfidential information groups: owner-directed aggression and stranger-directed fear. Compared with client-owned–group data, significantly more relinquished shelter dogs in the confidential information group were reported to have ownerdirected aggression, stranger-directed aggression, dog-directed aggression or fear, stranger-directed fear, nonsocial fear, and separation-related behaviors.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance Among persons relinquishing dogs to a shelter, those who believed questionnaire responses were confidential reported owner-directed aggression and fear of strangers in their pets more frequently than relinquishers who believed responses were nonconfidential. Confidentiality had no apparent effect on the reporting of other assessed behavioral problems. Results suggest that behavioral questionnaires may sometimes provide inaccurate information in a shelter setting, but the information may still be useful when evaluating behavior of relinquished dogs.


The evolution of herbal medicine: behavioural perspectives

Benjamin L. Hart Animal Behaviour Volume 70, Issue 5 , November 2005, Pages 975-989

The current popularity of trditional herbal supplements, coupled with recent findings that add scientific legitimacy to the use of some medicinal herbs, prompts a question about the origins of herbal medicine in animals and ancestral humans. Medicinal herbs are used by animals and humans with the apparent prophylactic effects of reducing the likelihood or severity of illness from pathogens or parasites in the future. Medicinal herbs with anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, immunomodulatory and/or analgesic properties are used in a therapeutic way to treat acute infections and inflammatory conditions, particularly in humans, and could have proven lifesaving to individuals living in nature. Was the origin of such types of herbal medicine the result of animals and humans learning that specific plant parts are effective for preventing or treating certain maladies, or was the origin a result of natural selection for a behavioural predisposition to seek out and use plant parts with particular physical or chemosensory markers of efficacy? Examining the predictions and requirements of both the learned and evolutionary explanations points primarily to an evolutionary model for the origin of herbal medicine that was expanded and enhanced by learning and social transmission. The evolutionary explanation accounts for the continued use of ineffective, as well as effective, medicinal herbs and the use of medicinal herbs with toxic effects. In animals one can point to origins of the practice of herbal medicine, as well as other behavioural defences against pathogens and parasites, as analogues of many aspects of modern human medicine and health care.


Evaluation of the role of lower urinary tract disease in cats with urine-marking behavior

Valarie V. Tynes, DVM; Benjamin L. Hart, DVM, PhD, DACVB; Patricia A. Pryor, DVM, DACVB; Melissa J. Bain, DVM, DACVB; and Locksley L. McV. Messam, DVM J Am Vet Med Assoc 2003;223:457–461

Objective—To determine whether findings of urinalyses could be used to reliably distinguish gonadectomized cats with urine-marking behavior from those with no problem urination.

Results—With regard to variables measured via urinalysis, there were no differences between male and female cats within either group. Among cats with urine-marking behavior, there were no differences between those that only marked vertically and those that marked vertically and horizontally. Analyses of data from all cats with urine-marking behavior and control cats revealed no differences that could be associated with urine marking.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—These data suggest that urine-marking behavior by gonadectomized cats is an aspect of normal behavior. Clinicians are advised to focus on behavioral history of house-soiling cats to differentiate between urine-marking behavior and inappropriate urination; for the latter, urinalysis is appropriate to rule out lower urinary tract disorders.


Evaluation of urine marking by cats as a model for understanding veterinary diagnostic and treatment approaches and client attitudes

Laurie Bergman, VMD; Benjamin L. Hart, DVM, PhD, DACVB; Melissa Bain, DVM, DACVB; Kelly Cliff, DVM, J Am Vet Med Assoc 2002;221:1282–1286.

Objective—To obtain information regarding diagnostic and treatment approaches of veterinarians and attitudes and beliefs of clients about a common clinical problem, urine marking in cats.

Results—Almost a third of veterinarians did not seem to correctly distinguish between urine marking (spraying) and inappropriate urination. Those that did make this diagnostic distinction reported recommending environmental management and prescribing medication significantly more often that those that did not make this distinction. Seventy-four percent of cat owners sought help from their veterinarians for urine marking; other common sources of information were the Internet and friends. Among those who did not consult a veterinarian, the most frequently cited reason was that they did not think their veterinarian could help. Among cat owners who consulted their veterinarians, 8% reported receiving advice on environmental hygiene and 4% on environmental management (limiting intercat interactions), although veterinarians who correctly diagnosed urine marking reported giving such advice 100 and 83% of the time, respectively.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Results may serve as a model for obtaining information critical to developing veterinary continuing education and public outreach programs for animal owners for various diseases.


Effects of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor on urine spraying behavior in cats

Patricia A. Pryor, DVM; Benjamin L. Hart, DVM, PhD, DACVB; Kelly D. Cliff, DVM; Melissa J. Bain, DVM, J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;219:1557–1561

Objective—To determine the effectiveness of a readily available selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), fluoxetine hydrochloride, on reducing problem urine spraying in cats.

Results—The mean (± SE) weekly rate of spraying episodes in treated cats was 8.6 (± 2.0) at baseline, decreased significantly by week 2 (1.7 ± 0.6), and continued to decrease by weeks 7 and 8 (0.4 ± 0.2). The mean weekly spraying rate of cats receiving placebo was 7.8 (± 1.5) at baseline, decreased only slightly during week 1 (5.5 ± 1.8), and did not decline further. When treatment was discontinued after 8 weeks, the spraying rate of cats that had received treatment varied. The main adverse reaction to the drug was a reduction in food intake, which was observed in 4 of 9 treated cats.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Administration of fluoxetine hydrochloride for treatment of urine spraying in cats can be expected to considerably reduce the rate of urine marking. The frequency of spraying before treatment is predictive of the spraying rate when the drug is discontinued.


Causes of urine marking in cats and effects of environmental management on frequency of marking

Patricia A. Pryor, DVM, DACVB; Benjamin L. Hart, DVM, PhD, DACVB; Melissa J. Bain, DVM, DACVB; Kelly D. Cliff, DVM, J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;219:1709–1713

Objective—To evaluate effects of environmental management alone on marking frequency in cats with urine marking and to obtain demographic data on cats with urine marking and data on owner-perceived factors that contributed to urine marking behavior.

Results—Male cats and cats from multicat households were significantly overrepresented, compared with the general pet cat population in California. The most commonly mentioned causative factors for urine marking were agonistic interactions with other cats outside or inside the home. Environmental management procedures resulted in an overall reduction in urine marking frequency. Among cats that marked ? 6 times during the baseline phase, females were significantly more likely to respond to treatment (? 50% reduction in marking frequency) than were males.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Results suggest that male cats and cats from multicat households are more likely to exhibit urine marking behavior than females and cats from single-cat households. Results also suggest that attention to environmental and litter box hygiene can reduce marking frequency in cats, regardless of sex or household status of the cats, and may come close to resolving the marking problem in some cats.


Effect of gonadectomy on subsequent development of age-related cognitive impairment in dogs

Benjamin L. Hart, DVM, PhD, DACVB, J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;219:51–56

Objective—To determine whether gonadectomy predisposes dogs to development of age-related behavioral changes linked to cognitive impairment.

Results—Sexually intact male dogs were significantly less likely than neutered dogs to progress from mild impairment (ie, impairment in 1 category) to severe impairment (ie, impairment in ? 2 categories) during the time between the first and second interviews. This difference was not attributable to differences in ages of the dogs, duration of follow-up, or the owners' perceptions of the dogs' overall health.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Results suggest that the presence of circulating testosterone in aging sexually intact male dogs may slow the progression of cognitive impairment, at least among dogs that already have signs of mild impairment. Estrogens would be expected to have a similar protective role in sexually intact female dogs; unfortunately, too few sexually intact female dogs were available for inclusion in the study to test this hypothesis. There may be a need to evaluate possible methods for counteracting the effects of loss of sex hormones in gonadectomized dogs.


Prevalence of behavioral changes associated with age-related cognitive impairment in dogs

Jacqueline C. Neilson, DVM, DACVB; Benjamin L. Hart, DVM, PhD, DACVB; Kelly D. Cliff, DVM; William W. Ruehl, DVM, PhD, DACVP, J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;218:1787–1791

Objective—To determine the prevalence of age-related behavioral changes, namely impairment, in a randomly chosen population of dogs.

Results—Age by sex interactions for dogs with impairment in any category were not significant, and, therefore, data on castrated males and spayed females were pooled for analyses across ages. The prevalence of age-related progressive impairment was significant in all categories. The percentage of 11- to 12-year-old dogs with impairment in ? 1 category was 28% (22/80), of which 10% (8/80) had impairment in 2 or more behavioral categories. Of 15- to 16-year-old dogs, 68% (23/34) had impairment in ? 1 category, of which 35% (12/34) had impairments in 2 or more categories. There were no significant effects of body weight on the prevalence of signs of dysfunction in the behavioral categories.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Data collected provide estimates of the prevalence of various degrees of age-related behavioral changes associated with cognitive dysfunction in dogs. Age-related behavioral changes may be useful indicators for medical intervention for dogs with signs of cognitive impairment.


Predicting behavioral changes associated with age-related cognitive impairment in dogs

Melissa J. Bain, DVM; Benjamin L. Hart, DVM, PhD, DACVB; Kelly D. Cliff, DVM; William W. Ruehl, DVM, PhD, DACVP, J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;218:1792–1795

Objective—To monitor the progression of age-related behavioral changes in dogs during a period of 6 to 18 months and to determine whether signs of dysfunction in any of 4 behavioral categories can be used to predict further impairment.

Results—Between interviews, 22% (16/73) of dogs that did not have impairment in a category at the time of the first interview developed impairment in that category by the time of the second interview. Forty-eight percent (13/27) of dogs that had impairment in 1 category at the time of the first interview developed impairment in 2 or more categories by the time of the second interview and were significantly more likely to develop impairment in 2 or more categories, compared with dogs that initially had impairment in 0 categories. Dogs with 1 sign of dysfunction in orientation were significantly more likely to develop impairment in that category, compared with dogs that had 0 signs of dysfunction in orientation.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Age-related behavioral changes in dogs are progressive. Clinicians should consider trying to predict which dogs are most likely to become progressively impaired during the subsequent 6 to 18 months.


Effect of oral diazepam on feeding behavior and activity of Hawai'i 'amakihi (Hemignathus virens)

Lori Ann Gaskins, J. Gregory Massey, Michael H. Ziccardi, Appl An Beh Sci, 2008

Abstract: Feeding behavior and activity during captivity were studied in wild-caught Hawai'i 'amakihi, Hemignathus virens, to evaluate diazepam's hyperphagic and anxiolytic effects. Birds were captured in mist nets, given either oral diazepam (1 mg/kg) or an equivalent volume per weight of lactated Ringer's solution orally, and held in captivity for 6 h. Thirteen-minute focal animal samples were videotaped at the beginning of each hour. Feeding behaviors, grooming and picking events, changes in position, and body weights were recorded. Mean duration of feeding, percentage of time spent feeding, and number of feeding events were significantly higher for treatment birds than for controls, and significantly increased over time. Feeding duration was significantly correlated to weight change. Weight change was not significantly different between groups, but on average treatment birds lost less weight than control birds. No significant differences in grooming behaviors were found between the groups, but there was a session effect of increased grooming over time in both groups. Also, a significant session effect in movement events was apparent, with control birds becoming less active and treatment birds becoming more active over time. Results indicate diazepam increased feeding behaviors and movement in this passerine species during a short period of captivity.


Human-directed aggression in miniature pet pigs

Valarie V. Tynes, DVM, DACVB; Benjamin L. Hart, DVM, PhD, DACVB; Melissa J. Bain, DVM, DACVB, JAVMA, February 1, 2007, Vol. 230, No. 3, Pages 385-389

Objectives—To determine whether associations exist between human-directed aggression and sex, neutering status, age of weaning, the presence of other pet pigs, or the presence of environmental enrichment objects in miniature pet pigs.

Results—Among 222 surveys that met enrollment criteria, human-directed aggression that occurred on at least 1 occasion was reported in 64% (n = 142) and aggression that occurred once or more per month was reported in 31% (69). No significant differences were found in the prevalence of human-directed aggression among castrated males, sexually intact females, and spayed females. Ages of weaning and neutering and the presence of objects intended to serve as environmental enrichment were not associated with frequency of aggression. A significant inverse association was detected between presence of other pigs in the same household and human-directed aggression, such that 21% (20/95) of pigs that lived with at least 1 conspecific were aggressive on a frequent basis, compared with 39% (49/126) of pigs that lived with no conspecific. A similar inverse association was evident regarding aggression that occurred on at least 1 occasion.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Results suggested that human-directed aggression is a common problem in miniature pet pigs. The presence of a conspecific can be expected to reduce the likelihood of human-directed aggression.


Control of urine marking by use of long-term treatment with fluoxetine or clomipramine in cats

Benjamin L. Hart , DVM, PhD, DACVB Kelly D. Cliff , DVM Valarie V. Tynes , DVM Laurie Bergman , VMD, J Am Vet Med Assoc 2005;226: 378–382

Objective—To determine whether clomipramine differs from fluoxetine in reducing feline urine marking; whether reduction of marking continues in cats treated > 8 weeks; whether recurrence of marking, after abrupt drug withdrawal, is less in cats treated > 8 weeks; and whether cats that are successfully treated but resume marking after drug withdrawal can be successfully treated again with the same drug regimen.

Results—Efficacy of fluoxetine and clomipramine was similar. Treatment > 8 weeks revealed increasing efficacy in reduction of marking. Return of marking after termination of fluoxetine administration occurred in most cats. Cats successfully treated initially with fluoxetine responded similarly to repeated treatment.
Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Clomipramine and fluoxetine were equivalent in treating urine marking. Longer treatment increased efficacy. Most cats return to marking after abrupt drug withdrawal. A second course of treatment can be expected to be as effective as the first.