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Do depressed horses (Equus caballus) lack attention? A different temporal pattern of responses towards auditory stimuli

Abstract : Domestic horses often encounter chronic stress, which in humans leads to a variety of negative psychological effects, including clinical depression. A recent study described an inactive state in domestic horses, termed withdrawn hereafter and characterised by an atypical posture, states of inactivity and low responsiveness to external stimuli, which resemble the reduced engagement with the environment seen in depressed patients. To assess whether these horses are affected by a depression-like condition, we investigated whether attentional abilities, frequently impaired in depressed patients, differ between withdrawn horses (n=12; 3 mares, 9 geldings, 20-6 and 13±1 mean years old) and control non-withdrawn animals from the same stable (n=15; 2 mares, 13 geldings, 18-4 and 10±1 mean years old), all French Saddlebred. These horses were exposed once a day for 5 consecutive days to a novel auditory stimulus, broadcasted for 3 seconds in horses’ home environment. We recorded standard measures of attentional state (e.g. time spent with ears, head and/or neck orientated towards the loudspeaker). Different temporal patterns of attentional responses appeared: withdrawn horses spent less time focused on the loudspeaker on the first day (Wilcoxon, P<0.05), while control horses similarly paid attention to stimuli over the 5 days period (Friedman P>0.05). Moreover, time focused on the loudspeaker was lower in withdrawn than in control horses on this first day (Mann-Whitney, P<0.05). Withdrawn horses therefore seem to ‘switch off ’ from environmental stimuli compared to control horses on the first trial, which might reflect lack of attention. Altogether, with a recent study revealing anhedonia (a core symptom of clinical depression) in withdrawn horses, results suggest a ‘syndrome’ that resemble clinical depression in humans, and open a promising line of investigation of what altered welfare states could look like in horses.
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https://hal-univ-rennes1.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01335859
Contributor : Umr6552 Ethos <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, June 22, 2016 - 2:14:58 PM
Last modification on : Thursday, January 9, 2020 - 4:08:04 PM

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Céline Rochais, Séverine Henry, Carole Fureix, Cleo Beaulieu, Martine Hausberger. Do depressed horses (Equus caballus) lack attention? A different temporal pattern of responses towards auditory stimuli. 48th Congress of the International Society for Applied Ethology, International Society for Applied Ethology (ISAE), Jul 2014, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain. pp.978-90-8686-245-0, ⟨10.3920/978-90-8686-797-4⟩. ⟨hal-01335859⟩

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