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Signs of depression in horses

C. Fureix, C. Beaulieu, S. Argaud, C. Rochais, M. Quinton and others

DEPRESSION is common in people and has a range of well-documented symptoms and causes. Laboratory rodents, pet dogs and cats, and captive apes and monkeys have also been described as showing depressed behaviour. Anhedonia – the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable – is a symptom of depression in people. Anhedonia has been modelled in rodents by assessing reductions in sucrose intake. Horses have been known to exhibit a ‘withdrawn’ state, characterised by a stationary, flat-necked posture, wide, unblinking eyes and backwards-pointing ears. The aim of this study was to assess whether withdrawn horses were in a depression-like condition.

Twenty horses, 15 of which had also been observed five years previously, were observed over a period of six months and assessed for showing stereotypic behaviours and being withdrawn. On the first day of the experiment, sucrose blocks were mounted on the wall of each horse's stall for a total of 30 hours and weighed at intervals to assess how much the horses had consumed. This was repeated three times for each horse.

The proportion of the time spent showing signs of withdrawal varied between 0 and 3.1 per …

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