When your animal suddenly develop some abnormal behaviours
Yes, there are abnormal behaviours that animals show, much like what we see in people undergoing some physiological changes or people with mental disturbance!
Abnormal behaviours in animals are referred to as vices and have an underlying cause which must be addressed immediately through consultation with your veterinary doctor. Vices are thus undesirable and unusual behaviour because they are indicative of illnesses, nutritional inadequacies or point to poor animal husbandry.
Some of these vices are in fact clinical signs of diseases. Vices can lead to self-injuries, secondary infections and reduction in productivity. Vices are relatively common in housed animal kept under intensive production systems compared to free range animals. Main causes of vices are under or over feeding, boredom due to confinement and lack of activity, poor housing, poor management practices and rough handling. Below are some vices, their probable causes and how they can be prevented.
LICKING AND CHEWING INANIMATE OBJECTS
This behaviour is medically referred to as Pica and is common in calves and cows. Animals will eat bones, lick walls and floors and other equipment in nearby.
The condition is indicative of a nutritional imbalance in the calcium and phosphorous ratios or deficiency of phosphorus. Animals suffering from pica will want to feed more but will not have a proportionate weight increase. The condition is corrected through provision of mineral licks which normally has phosphorus as a key ingredient. In addition, provide the animal with enough feed and enough space for housed animals.
EATING FAECAL WASTE
Ingestion of feacal waste is called coprophagia; the animal will feed on dung either from self or from other animals. This condition is common in animals that are starving and in confinement but it can also be a result of mineral deficiency. This problem has been observed in young horses where they feed on their mother’s droppings and is thought to be beneficial in the establishment of the gut microbial flora and provision of some vitamins.
Rubbing against walls and objects The affected animals will rub its body against the wall and other solid objects and is caused by poor management resulting in overcrowding it can also be caused by external parasites. It leads to self-inflicted injuries and loss of wool.
A farmer will see fallen wool or hair where the animal has rubbed itself. The condition is controlled by keeping animals of the same ages together and avoiding overcrowding.
This condition is common in housed chicken and in female pigs. Chicken will peck feathers, open up wounds and is normally caused by boredom. In pigs; the sows that have just delivered will kill and eat their piglets. Farrowing crates can greatly reduce the incidence of cannibalism.
Cannibalism is common in confined large poultry flocks. It is a serious problem that can result in death and reduced egg production. It involves toe picking in chicks, feather plucking around the head, body and tail areas. Vent pecking can result in serious wounds in its extreme form the intestines may be pulled out. The following patterns of cannibalism have been observed, first is a dominant bird pecking submissive birds, second is young chicks pecking their own toes and lastly mutual pecking where birds peck each other.
Cannibalism is caused by boredom, stressful housing conditions – resulting in poor ventilation, lightning or excess lighting, low sodium and protein deficient rations. This vice can be controlled by correcting dietary deficiencies in sodium, protein and palatability, proper housing. Beak trimming though used in the past is discouraged as it goes against animal welfare.
TAIL AND EAR BITING
This is common in calves and pigs reared in crowded indoor conditions the resulting wounds can be infected.
This commonly observed in dairy animals during milking and especially in first milkers. It is mainly caused by harsh treatment that results in pain due to massaging of teats or fear of human manipulation of teats.The vice is better prevented than controlled by starting to handle the teats three days before calving so that the heifer gets used to the practice.
This condition is common in cows and may be inherited or caused by early weaning, boredom. It can also result from denial of opportunity to graze. Cows roll their tongue around grass before pulling and ingesting grass. The condition is prevented by grazing animals or giving them enough fodder and through breeding.
THROWING OUT FEED
The animal will throughout feed from its feeding trough onto the floor. This abnormal behaviour is common in intensive system and like tongue rolling is due to the urge to graze or idleness. Adjusting the height of the feeding trough can also solve the problem.
Normally only bulls mount cows for reproductive purposes; but sometimes cows too mount other cows and even show other male traits like ground pawing. The cow with this abnormal behaviour will mount other cows but will refuse to be mounted. Cows on heat will also show this behaviour but will stand to be mounted. This condition is called nymphomania and it can be an inherited trait. It is common in high producing dairy animals and cows belonging to beef breeds. The vice can also be caused by disturbance in the reproduction cycle hormones and can therefore be an indicator of infertility.
SELF-SUCKING AND INTER SUCKING
Self-sucking is common in early weaned male calves and is due to poor management. Calves will lick and suck their own naval, prepuce and scrotum or those of other calves.
Inter-sucking is common in adult animals and caused by overcrowding and boredom. Cows will suck the teats of others and will cause reduction in milk production and predispose to mastitis. The behaviour can be corrected in suckler cows using modified nose rings with spines that will cause pain during sucking.
For self suckling animals this can be prevented using Elizabethan collar or using a series of wood planks fitted around the neck in a manner that restricts neck movement. Regular milking of lactating animals should be applied to reduce incidences of this behaviour. If a cow persists with this behaviour, culling should be considered.
The animal with this condition will suck and drink their urine or the urine of other animals. It can occur in all ages but it is common in housed bulls. Deficiency in minerals is a major cause of the condition. Urine drinking is also caused by overcrowding and lack of enough water. These conditions are prevented through provision of adequate feeds and mineral licks and provision of enough and clean drinking water respectively. An animal with this abnormal behaviour should be isolated from the rest and its diet supplemented with mineral lick.
RUBBING AGAINST SURFACES
Animals with this behavior will move parts of their body against a surface repeatedly in the process causing wounds. It is more common in animals kept in confinement and comparatively more noticeable in horned breed and more common in bull than the other stock.
By Dr Othieno Joseph – The writer is a veterinary surgeon working with Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council- KENTTEC)