Animal behaviour specialist, Dr Sue McDonnell, from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, will be speaking at the Equine Veterinarians Australia annual conference this week on ways for veterinarians to interpret behavioural changes in horses and which ones might have physical causes.
Dr McDonnell says that behavioral changes without obvious physical causes can be very challenging to diagnose by simple clinical examination alone.
The behavioural signs may be subtle or disappear in the face of a threat, such as an examination by a vet.
Behavioural changes may also be a sign of underlying pain. A horse in pain could also stop displaying a problem behaviour when distracted by food or social situations.
“A 24-hour continuous videotape of the horse can help identify possible physical or psychological causes. When horses are undisturbed in a quiet, familiar environment, they are more likely to show signs of discomfort.
“Repeated subtle signs, such as tail movements, head-shaking and changes in breathing are very helpful in recognising abnormal behaviours, which may indicate underlying pain,” she said.
Dr McDonnell will also be giving conference presentations on normal behaviour and socialisation of horses, and stallion, mare and foal behaviour. Dr McDonnell brings her perspective from years of scientific study and observation of wild horse herd behaviour and interactions. She has created a horse psychology model for use in the diagnosis and management of horses.
The conference, being run by Equine Veterinarians Australia, a special interest group of the Australian Veterinary Association, is being held at the Brisbane Convention Centre, Queensland, 8-13 July.
The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) is the national professional association of veterinary surgeons in Australia. Founded in 1921, the AVA today represents 5000 members working in all areas of animal science, health and welfare.