Pre-operative stress in dogs – a preliminary investigation of behavior and heart rate variability in healthy hospitalized dogs



      To assess pre-operative behavioral and physiological characteristics of healthy dogs hospitalized for elective surgery.

      Study design

      Open clinical observational study.


      Forty-one bitches hospitalized for elective ovariohysterectomy.


      While undisturbed in a hospital cage, the behavior of the dog was recorded using a video camera and recorder. From the video recordings, various behavioral variables were registered. Simultaneous measurements were made on heart rates and heart rate variability (HRV) by use of an ambulatory electrocardiogram. In addition, the dog's response to human approach was noted.


      Different behavioral patterns were found in the dogs studied. Thirteen individuals were regarded as highly active, and were seen to bark or howl, manipulate the environment or attempt to flee vigorously. In 13 dogs (passive dogs) none of these activities occurred. Panting and displacement behaviors, such as snout licking, were observed in nearly all the animals monitored. In general, heart rates were higher and HRV lower with the most active individuals; however, the presence of physiological arousal could not be excluded in two animals with passive behaviors. To some extent, the behavior of the dog while undisturbed in the cage was reflected in the responses to a person entering the cage.

      Conclusions and clinical relevance

      The different individual responses detected in this study raise an important question concerning their role and existence throughout the entire peri-operative period, especially during the post-anesthetic recovery phase when behavioral characteristics are commonly used to assess patient welfare. The results also emphasize the need for further investigations to explore the effects of pre-operative stressors on canine surgical patients, and the factors contributing to them.


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