Biology Letters "Attention bias to threat indicates anxiety differences in sheep"

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Biology Letters "Attention bias to threat indicates anxiety differences in sheep"

Data from an attention bias test in sheep. This is published in Biology Letters.

Animal Behaviour



Caroline Lee

affective states, animal welfare threat perception vigilance attention bias

Sheep were randomly allocated to one of three treatments (n=20 per treatment): 1) control (receiving saline i.m), anxiolytic (diazepam, 0.1 mg/kg i.v.) and 3) anxiogenic (m-CPP, 2mg/kg i.m.). This dose of diazepam has been used previously in sheep and induces positive affect without signs of sedation [6]. Methyl-chlorophenylpiperazine is a serotonin agonist psychoactive drug which has been reported to induce anxiety in a range of species [7]. The dose has been used previously in sheep, and increases anxiety without adverse effects on locomotion [8, 9]. A lower dose of m-CPP (1mg/kg i.m) was shown to induce anxiety in younger sheep [7]. Each sheep was injected 30 min before testing with their allocated drug or saline treatment. This timing was selected as maximum concentrations in serum were reported in sheep 14.6 min after i.m injection with diazepam and levels were maintained for up to 1 hour [10]. On the test day, sheep were bought into the yards from their home paddocks. The attention bias test arena (4 x 4 m) was enclosed so that animals could not see out (Figure 1). In the centre of the arena a feed reward (200 g) was placed in a familiar bucket. Individual sheep entered the arena for 190 s and were tested in random order. A dog sitting quietly outside the arena was visible through a window on the side of the arena. After 10 s, the window was closed and the dog removed to a waiting area located 20 m away. Video cameras recorded the sheep to measure response to the dog (freezing behaviour, time spent looking at the dog), attention towards the threat, vigilance behaviour, zones crossed and latency to feed. Vigilance was defined as the head at shoulder height or higher. Attention towards the threat was defined as time spent looking in the direction of the closed window during a 60 s period immediately following removal of the dog. Zones crossed was the number of squares entered when the arena was divided into nine equal squares. Number of vocalisations were measured by a person outside the arena. The person recording the behaviour was blind to the treatments. At the cessation of testing, sheep were returned to the paddock.

Else Verbeek, Sue Belson, Jim Lea, Dom Niemeyer, Tim Dyall, Troy Kalinowski

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence

CSIRO (Australia), University of Newcastle (United Kingdom), The University of Melbourne (Australia)

Lee, Caroline (2016): Biology Letters "Attention bias to threat indicates anxiety differences in sheep". v1. CSIRO. Data Collection.

All Rights (including copyright) CSIRO 2016.

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About this Project

1206.2 JuliusCareerAward-CarolineLee

Caroline Lee's Julius Career award

Caroline Lee


Attention bias test in sheep using pharmacological manipulations to induce differences in anxiety.


Behavioural observations

Caroline Lee

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