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Unit information: Unit 4: Stress, welfare and the influence of disease and diet on behaviour in 2015/16

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Unit name Unit 4: Stress, welfare and the influence of disease and diet on behaviour
Unit code VETS10009
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Casey
Open unit status Not open

The five units of this course will run in sequential order. Students must achieve a minimum of 40% overall for assessments on the study skills unit (Unit1) before attending subsequent units (no compensation).

Students must achieve a minimum of 40% on Units 2 and 3 prior to progressing to Units 4 and 5. Students must achieve a minimum of 40% on Unit 4 before commencing Unit 5.

Students failing to achieve 40% in units 2-5 will be given the option of resitting the unit before the start of the subsequent unit, or the end of the academic year.

  • Unit 1: Study skills
  • Unit 2: Ethology, genetics and the development of behaviour
  • Unit 3: Understanding learning theory and its application to behaviour modification and training


School/department Bristol Veterinary School
Faculty Faculty of Health Sciences

Description including Unit Aims

This unit will introduce the physiological processes underlying behaviour, providing an introduction to the basic principles of neuroscience and endocrinology and an overview of the endocrine basis of different forms of behaviour. The unit introduces the mechanisms underlying the stress response as well as the effects of stress on immune function.

Dietary changes are frequently recommended for treatment of behaviour problems in dogs and the scientific evidence for the influence of nutrition on behaviour will also be examined in this unit.

The assessment of welfare in rescue-housed animals is an important role of rehoming centre staff and methods for achieving this will be discussed. The unit examines in detail specific welfare problems for dogs housed in kennels as well as those kept as companion animals and explores solutions to these problems. The development of abnormal behaviour is also covered in this unit. This unit aims to:

  • Enable students to establish a good knowledge of the concepts and principles underlying the assessment of welfare in companion animals.
  • Provide students with a basic understanding of the physiological and pathological processes which influence behavioural development and rehabilitation
  • Enable students to make sound judgements about the influence of disease on behaviour, and be able to communicate within multi-disciplinary teams including veterinarians and clinical behaviourists when dealing with individual animals in their work environment
  • Provide students with an understanding of the influence of nutrition on behaviour
  • Ensure that students develop practical skills in assessing the welfare of individual animals, and evaluating appropriate environmental or management modifications to enhance welfare, with emphasis on the rehoming centre environment

Intended Learning Outcomes

At the end of this unit students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the basic principles underlying welfare assessment in animals, including behavioural, physiological and cognitive parameters
  • Understand the mechanisms underlying stress responses and emotional changes
  • Evaluate the likelihood that physiological or pathological factors may influence behaviour in individual animals
  • Communicate effectively with members of veterinary teams in the assessment and rehabilitation of individual animals
  • Evaluate different theories and concepts relating to enhancement of welfare and quality of life in companion animals
  • Evaluate and discuss the impact of nutrition on behaviour in companion animals
  • Develop practical skills in assessing the welfare of individual animals within the rescue centre context
  • Communicate their knowledge effectively and reliably, including explaining how welfare assessment is conducted to other members of staff

Teaching Information

The unit is made up of 7.5 days of contact time with students (5 days at University of Bristol and 2.5 days at Dogs Trust training centre, Evesham), and the remaining time is, self-directed study and preparation of assessed material. During contact with lecturing staff, teaching methods include formal lectures, however the emphasis is very much on discussion based seminar and tutorial sessions, where material is related to students’ own work-based experiences, and practical sessions where techniques are demonstrated and students are able to develop their skills. Out with the contact periods, students are directed to access materials available on-line, and via existing library resources in order to complete both formative and summative assessments.The distance learning elements of the unit will be facilitated using online materials produced specifically for the students on this course.

As the unit involves a significant proportion of work-based learning, accessible support from tutors and unit organisers will be essential. At the beginning of the course structured access to tutors and unit organisers will be outlined to students. This will specify appropriate means of communication with tutors (e.g. email), in addition to informing the students of how soon they can expect a reply (e.g. 48hrs) and specific times during the week when their tutors will be available (e.g. Monday mornings).

Students will be allocated a personal tutor and pastoral tutor (programme director) at the start of the first unit (Unit1: Study skills).

Assessment Information

Formative assessment

  • Report on welfare audit visit to rehoming centre (2000 words)

Summative assessment

  • Welfare audit in the work-place including written report (40%) (2000 words)
  • Written report suitable for a centre manager on recommended environmental and management needs of an individual animal (30%) (800 words)
  • Online MCQs exam (30%)

Summative assessments will take place and feedback will be provided prior to the student attending the subsequent unit

Reading and References

Mendl, M., Brooks, J., Basse, C., Burman, O., Paul, E., Blackwell, E. and Casey, R. (2010) Dogs showing separation-related behaviour exhibit a ‘pessimistic’ cognitive bias. Current Biology, 20, 839-840

Physiology of behaviour. Neil Carlson. Pearson Education. New Jersey, USA.

Biological Psychology: An Introduction to Behavioral, Cognitive, and Clinical Neuroscience (6th Edition). Marc Breedlove, Neil Watson, and Mark Rosenzweig. Sinauer Associates, Hampshire, UK.

Animal Welfare. Mike Appleby and Bo Hughes. CAB International, Oxon, UK.

The welfare of dogs. Kevin Stafford. Springer. Dordrecht, The Netherlands.

The welfare of cats. Irene Rochlitz. Springer. Dordrecht, The Netherlands.