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Pain and Problem Behavior: Putting Animal Welfare First!

May 9

7:00 am PT

This talk is eligible for CEUs from: CCPDT, IAABC, KPA


The potential role of pain in problem behavior is widely acknowledged, but there seems to be a lack of structure to recognizing the many ways which it can impact both normal acceptable activity but also problem behavior. From a scientific research perspective, it is often difficult to present definitive evidence concerning the breadth of the problem given the individuality of animal behavior and impact of specific context on exact behavior shown at any given time.

In this presentation, I will present evidence from my clinical experience and research to illustrate the scale and nature of the issue with a view to increasing awareness of the problem. Indeed, at our referral clinic in excess of 80% of problem behavior cases seen by us have some form of association with a medical and often painful condition. While only a veterinary may make a specific diagnosis, many of these conditions can be suspected from close observation of the patient, and so concerns can be raised by non-veterinarians working in the field. The more you look, the more you will see, and (in my experience) the more concerned you will become about this issue.

I have recently suggested that the relationship between a problem behavior and pain can be classified in one of four categories:

  • the presenting complaint is a direct manifestation of pain;
  • unidentified pain is underpinning secondary concerns within the initial behavior problem;
  • there is an exacerbation of one or more signs of problem behavior as a result of pain;
  • or they are adjunctive behavioral signs associated with pain.

I will argue that, in general, it is better to treat suspected pain first rather than consider its significance only when the animal does not respond to behavior therapy. The time taken for these measures to take effect can be spent usefully building the skillset of owners so they are better prepared and able to execute the problem behavior management protocols necessary to totally resolve the issue.

Presented By:

Daniel S. Mills

Daniel S. Mills (he/him) is professor of Veterinary Behavioral Medicine at the University of Lincoln, a veterinary surgeon, and a leading academic who specializes in the management of problem behavior and the human-animal bond. After spending several years in practice, working for both the charity sector (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) and mixed animal private practice, he moved into academia in Lincolnshire in 1994. He has led undergraduate programs in animal behavior and welfare as well as developed a Master’s program in clinical animal behavior. In 2004 he was the first individual to be recognized by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons as a specialist in veterinary behavioral medicine and in 2016 was further recognized by them as the first person to be granted Fellowship status for their contributions to the field. He was also Europe’s first professor of his discipline and has pioneered a scientific transformation of our understanding of companion animal problem behavior through the development of a “psychobiological approach” to clinical animal behavior assessment.

More recently he has worked extensively on the wider implications of human-animal relationships including the economic significance of companion animals and health benefits of animal assisted interventions. He has published around 150 full peer-reviewed scientific articles and more than 50 books and chapters. He frequently advises both specialist and general media on companion animal issues and has acted as an expert witness in the English courts. He runs an audio and YouTube podcast series of chats with inspirational friends in the field of animal behavior he has had the benefit of getting to know over the course of his career (