Assessment of Animal Stress and Quality of Life

Animal stress and quality of life are difficult to define and even more difficult to measure and document. Nonetheless, the measurement of stress as a welfare indicator is crucial for animals in many settings, including laboratories, shelters, farms and zoos. Likewise, in clinical veterinary medicine, understanding quality of life and the study of health related quality of life is important to help pet owners and veterinarians in making treatment decisions. This field of research brings together statisticians, clinicians as well as policy makers and encompasses several applications.

In the realm of shelter medicine, CAPP faculty and students are interested in developing stress assessment tools for animals in shelters, and evaluating methods (such as enrichment) for alleviating stress. Past and current lines of investigation have studied:

  • Behavioral and physiologic indicators of stress in shelter cats
  • Assessment of behavior as an indication of stress in dogs
  • Physiologic indices of stress in hospitalized, laboratory and shelter dogs
  • Development of a body condition scoring system used to assess dogs in cruelty investigations.

Measuring the effects of an intervention on stress reduction can be used to provide justification for implementing the intervention and thereby improve animal welfare. For an example, an animal shelter might be interested in demonstrating that the feline hiding boxes that they purchased were capable of reducing stress in their feline residents.

Examples of health-related quality of life assessments that have been developed at the Cummings School include assessment tools for determining the quality of life for cats and dogs with cardiac disease.

A list of student projects in this research area can be found on the Assessment of Animal Stress, Quality of Life and Enrichment Student Projects page.