Breathlessness is a negative affective experience relating to respiration, the animal welfare significance of which has largely been underestimated in the veterinary and animal welfare sciences.
In this review, we draw attention to the negative impact that breathlessness can have on the welfare of individual animals and to the wide range of situations in which mammals may experience breathlessness.
At least three qualitatively distinct sensations of breathlessness are recognised in human medicine – respiratory effort, air hunger and chest tightness – and each of these reflects comparison by cerebral cortical processing of some combination of heightened ventilatory drive and/or impaired respiratory function.
Each one occurs in a variety of pathological conditions and other situations, and more than one may be experienced simultaneously or in succession.
However, the three qualities vary in terms of their unpleasantness, with air hunger reported to be the most unpleasant. We emphasise the important interplay among various primary stimuli to breathlessness and other physiological and pathophysiological conditions, as well as animal management practices.
For example, asphyxia/drowning of healthy mammals or killing those with respiratory disease using gases containing high carbon dioxide tensions is likely to lead to severe air hunger, while brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome in modern dog and cat breeds increases respiratory effort at rest and likely leads to air hunger during exertion.
Using this information as a guide, we encourage animal welfare scientists, veterinarians, laboratory scientists, regulatory bodies and others involved in evaluations of animal welfare to consider whether or not breathlessness contributes to any compromise they may observe or wish to avoid or mitigate.
KEY WORDS: Breathlessness, dyspnea, animal welfare, affective states, respiration