Evidence of negative affective state in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels with syringomyelia

Alastair Cockburn, Melissa Smith, Clare Rusbridge, Carol Fowler, Elizabeth S. Paul, Joanna C. Murrell, Emily J. Blackwell, Rachel A. Casey, Helen R. Whay, Michael Mendl*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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Syringomyelia is a common and chronic neurological disorder affecting Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. The condition is putatively painful, but evaluating the affective component of chronic pain in non-human animals is challenging. Here we employed two methods designed to assess animal affect – the judgement bias and reward loss sensitivity tests – to investigate whether Cavalier King Charles Spaniels with syringomyelia (exhibiting a fluid filled cavity (syrinx) in the spinal cord of ≥2 mm diameter) were in a more negative affective state than those without the condition. Dogs with syringomyelia did not differ in age from those without the condition, but owners reported that they scratched more (P < 0.05), in line with previous findings. They also showed a more negative judgement of ambiguous locations in the judgement bias task (P < 0.05), indicating a more negative affective state, but did not show a greater sensitivity to loss of food rewards. These measures were unaffected by whether the dog was or was not receiving pain-relieving medication. Across all subjects, dogs whose owners reported high levels of scratching showed a positive judgement bias (P < 0.05), indicating that scratching was not directly associated with a negative affective state. Tests of spontaneous behaviour (latency to jump up to or down from a 30 cm high platform) and physiology (thermography of the eye) did not detect any differences. These results provide initial evidence from the judgement bias task that syringomyelia may be associated with negative affect in dogs, and open the way for further and larger studies to confirm findings and investigate the effects of medication in more detail.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-84
Number of pages8
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Early online date12 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


  • Affective state
  • Animal welfare
  • Cognitive bias
  • Dog
  • Reward loss sensitivity
  • Syringomyelia

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