Behavioural Differences in Dogs with Atopic Dermatitis Suggest Stress Could Be a Significant Problem Associated with Chronic Pruritus
School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, The University of Nottingham, Leicestershire LE12 5RD, UK
UK Vet Derm, 16 Talbot Street, Whitwick, Leicestershire LE67 5AW, UK
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 30 May 2019 / Revised: 3 October 2019 / Accepted: 6 October 2019 / Published: 16 October 2019
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.