Objectives: To quantify the effects of wellness examinations conducted in the common treatment area on fear, anxiety and stress indicators in client-owned dogs.
Materials and methods: The study was a prospective, non-blinded, randomised, two-period two-treatment crossover trial. Client-owned healthy adult dogs presenting for wellness or dental evaluations at a single veterinary teaching hospital received three consecutive rapid assessment exams; a baseline exam (owner present), followed by two identical physical exams differing in location and presented in random order (isolated exam room with owner present versus common treatment area, owner absent). Primary endpoints were a cumulative fear, anxiety and stress score for five standardised behaviours and heart rate (bpm) measured for each exam.
Results: Forty-four dogs were enrolled. Modal fear, anxiety and stress score at baseline was 1 of 5, indicating none to mild stress. Both fear, anxiety and stress and heart rates measured in the common treatment area were clinically elevated relative to assessments conducted in the exam room. Relative to baseline, animals examined in the common treatment area showed increased fear, anxiety and stress (+2.6 units, se 0.5; P<0.0001) and heart rate (20 bpm, 95 per cent confidence interval 13, 28; P<0.0001). Twenty-eight dogs (64 per cent) exhibited fear, anxiety and stress scores ≥3 of 5 (moderate to severe stress) in the common treatment area, compared to 19 (43 per cent) during exam room assessments.
Clinical significance: Stress assessments in this study may have been biased by inability to blind assessors to location. However, stress metrics showed clinically significant, consistent and directionally symmetrical increases when dogs were examined in the common treatment area. When physical exam locations are highly stimulating, dogs may experience increased stress and anxiety, with detrimental effects on clinical assessments and behavioural welfare. Whenever possible, physical exams and procedures should take place in low-stress environments with the owner present.
1Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, 32610-0126, USA.
2Department of Anesthesiology, Statistics in Anesthesiology Research (STAR) Core, College of Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, 32610-0126, USA.