Veterinary behaviourist take a broad approach to animal wellbeing by including a focus on psychological health as well as physical health. Behaviourist need to build a different relationship compared traditional vet practice between themselves the non-human client and the carer. Italian researchers investigated whether vet behaviourists have different attitudes towards non-human animals when compared with other vets.

What’s it about?

Veterinary behavioural medicine is a relatively new field of vet practice that takes a broad approach to treating animals behavioural issues. Treatment requires an assessment of the animals welfare which may include an evaluation of the animal carers behaviours and attitudes.

This differs from general vet practice where diagnosis and treatment are based on physical symptoms. The authors hypothesized that behavioural assessments may alter the attitudes that vet behaviourists have towards animals and animal welfare in general.

The researchers wanted to find out whether vet behaviorists and general practice vets have different attitudes towards non-human animals.

How did they do it?

The authors conducted a online survey of italian vets working mostly with companion animals (cats and dogs), including 140 registered specialist vet behaviourists, 378 vets not specialising in behaviour, and 22 non-specialists who were consulting on behaviour.

Participants had to indicating their opinions in regards to several questions related to animal welfare. One set of questions evaluated the importance of the five freedoms (see video below) to the participants.

A second set of questions included a slightly amended subset of questions from the Animal Attitudes Scale, that assessed attitudes towards dogs, food, research and human moral dominance.

What did they find?

  • Vet behaviourists had more positive attitudes towards non-human animals that other vets.
  • Interestingly, veterinarians practicing behavioural medicine but not specialising in it had more positive attitudes towards non-human animals than both vet behaviourists and other vets.
  • Vet behaviourists had significantly more positive attitudes towards animals in regards to food, research and human moral dominance.
  • Vet behaviourists and other vets did not differ in their attitudes towards dogs.
  • Within ‘other vets’, veterinary internists had the most positive attitudes towards non-human animals, then surgeons and finally anaesthetists.
  • The importance vet behaviourists and vets attached to the five freedoms differed in the following ways:
    • Hunger and thirst – no difference;
    • Pain, injury and disease – no difference;
    • Discomfort – vet behaviourists more important;
    • Express normal behaviour – vet behaviourist more important; and,
    • Fear and distress – vet behaviourists more important.

Take Home Message

Veterinary practitioners from different specialisation differ in their attitudes towards non-human animals. Vets that work on the psychological aspects of companion animal health have more positive attitudes towards non-human animals.

I wonder whether a psychological perspective increases vet behaviourists recognition of other animals individuality and worth. A topic for future research perhaps!

PS. It’s important to remember this was a small subsample of Italian vets and the results may not translate to other areas.

Paper's Stats

Animal Status

No animals were harmed for this research.

Title: Attitude toward non-human animals and their welfare: do behaviorists differ from other veterinarians?

Authors: Angelo Gazzano, Sabrina Giussani, Jara Gutiérrez, Asahi Ogi, Chiara Mariti

Journal: Journal of Veterinary Behavior

Date Published: Feb 6th, 2018


Discussed on Podcast: None

Paper Access

Open Access

Research Type

Peer-reviewed research