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Open AccessArticle

Behavioural Differences in Dogs with Atopic Dermatitis Suggest Stress Could Be a Significant Problem Associated with Chronic Pruritus

1
School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, The University of Nottingham, Leicestershire LE12 5RD, UK
2
UK Vet Derm, 16 Talbot Street, Whitwick, Leicestershire LE67 5AW, UK
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(10), 813; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9100813
Received: 30 May 2019 / Revised: 3 October 2019 / Accepted: 6 October 2019 / Published: 16 October 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Fundamentals of Clinical Animal Behaviour)
Canine atopic dermatitis (cAD) is a common allergic skin condition in dogs that causes long-term itching; it is similar to eczema in people. The overall quality of life in dogs with cAD is known to be reduced, and humans with eczema report significant psychological burdens from itching that increase stress levels and can lead to the development of additional mental health problems. We tested whether dogs with cAD would display more problem behaviours (that could be indicative of stress) than would healthy controls. Behavioural data were gathered directly from owners using a validated dog behaviour questionnaire for 343 dogs with a diagnosis of cAD and 552 healthy controls, and scores were also provided for the severity of itching experienced by their dog. The results showed that itch severity in dogs with cAD was associated with increased frequency of behaviours often considered problematic, such as: mounting, chewing, hyperactivity, coprophagia (eating faeces), begging for and stealing food, attention-seeking, excitability, excessive grooming and reduced trainability. Whilst we cannot know whether itching directly caused these differences, the behaviours that were associated with itch severity are of a type that are often considered by behavioural biologists to be indicative of stress. Further investigation is warranted, and stress reduction could be helpful when treating dogs with cAD.
Canine atopic dermatitis (cAD) is a common allergic skin condition in dogs that causes chronic pruritus. The overall quality of life in dogs with cAD is known to be reduced, and human patients with pruritic conditions report significant psychological burdens from pruritus-induced stress, and atopic dermatitis is associated with significant psychopathological morbidities. We tested the hypothesis that dogs with cAD would display more problem behaviours that could be indicative of stress than would healthy controls. Behavioural data were gathered directly from owners using a validated dog behaviour questionnaire for 343 dogs with a diagnosis of cAD and 552 healthy controls, and scores were also provided for their dog’s pruritus severity. Regression modelling, controlling for potential confounding variables (age, sex, breed, neuter status or other health problem(s)) showed for the first time that pruritus severity in dogs with cAD was associated with increased frequency of behaviours often considered problematic, such as mounting, chewing, hyperactivity, coprophagia, begging for and stealing food, attention-seeking, excitability, excessive grooming, and reduced trainability. Whilst causality cannot be ascertained from this study, the behaviours that were associated with pruritus severity are redirected, self/environment-directed displacement behaviours, which are often considered indicative of stress. Further investigation is warranted, and stress reduction could be helpful when treating dogs with cAD. View Full-Text
Keywords: clinical animal behaviour; dermatology; stress; questionnaire clinical animal behaviour; dermatology; stress; questionnaire
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Harvey, N.D.; Craigon, P.J.; Shaw, S.C.; Blott, S.C.; England, G.C. Behavioural Differences in Dogs with Atopic Dermatitis Suggest Stress Could Be a Significant Problem Associated with Chronic Pruritus. Animals 2019, 9, 813.

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