Veterinary

‘Undesirable behaviour’ largest cause of death in dogs under three

New research has found “undesirable behaviour” as the highest cause of death in dogs living in England that die under the age of three.

It is estimated that 24% of households in the UK own a dog, however a recent VetCompass study of dogs under the care of primary-care veterinary practices in England that died before three years of age showed more than a third died because of “undesirable behaviour”.

The most common types of behaviour included aggression, conflict with other pets, the attacking of other dogs, overly excitable, excessive barking and inappropriate toileting.

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The study was carried out by a team of researchers from several veterinary colleges over a five-year period from September 2009 to August 2014. It aimed to identify risk factors for death due to undesirable behaviours, including breed or type, size, sex and age.

Researchers also focussed on characterising the behaviours recorded and what steps had been taken to address them, sampling 264,259 dogs attending 127 clinics in England. Over the period of the study 474 dogs under the age of three died due to behaviour, with aggression being the most common behaviour cited.

Dogs under the age of three were found to be most likely to die from an “undesirable behaviour” compared with other reasons such as a medical condition. Within the dogs that died due to an undesirable behaviour, it was found that the Cocker Spaniel, West Highland White Terrier, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier, were more likely to die because of the behaviour.

The study concluded that dogs which exhibit “undesirable behaviours” are also at risk of compromised welfare, either because of their own underlying emotional motivations for the behaviour or because of the ways in which their owners might seek to resolve the problem.

Caitlin Boyd, who co-authored the study as an MSc student in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare at the Royal (Dick) Veterinary School, Edinburgh, said: “Our results highlight the importance of owner education regarding dog behaviour and what is natural behaviour for dogs to exhibit. Human perception impacts whether a behaviour is deemed desirable or not.

“For example, one owner might not mind a dog who digs but a different owner would find it unacceptable. Improved education to enable owners to recognise “normal” healthy behaviour and identify emotional states, such as fear and anxiety, is necessary to improve early reporting of behavioural concerns.

“Combining this with improved education of the veterinary profession offers opportunity for owners to find appropriate information on sourcing and raising a puppy and guidance concerning the management and potential resolution of undesirable behaviours. It is advised that young puppies are exposed to a complex environment in a controlled manner in order to produce a confident, resilient dog, who can cope with living alongside humans.”

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