Colleagues have investigated whether different dog breeds feel pain differently. For this study, of course, no dog was deliberately inflicted pain. Instead, both veterinarians and people without a veterinary background were asked how they assess the sensitivity to the suffering of different types of dogs. The test subjects were asked to look at a photograph of each of the 28 selected breeds and rate the pain sensitivity of that breed on a scale from “Not at all pain-sensitive” to “Highest pain sensitivity imaginable.”
Small dogs are rated as more sensitive to pain.
There is no physiological basis for the assumption that different dog breeds have different pain sensations. Nevertheless, 90% of respondents in both groups stated that different kinds perceive pain stimuli differently. In general, small, light dogs were considered to be more sensitive to pain. Among the respondents without a veterinary background, there was also an assumption that breeds that are classified as dangerous (in the USA) are notably less sensitive to pain.
The factors that the respondents felt mainly influenced pain sensitivity to differ between groups. While veterinarians more than laypeople assume that temperament plays a significant role, the general public tends to think that skin thickness has the most considerable influence. Both groups agree with the assumption that there are also genetic components in the perception of pain.
Overall, the evaluation of pain sensitivity differs between veterinarians and laypersons for a large part of the selected breeds. Only in the case of the Maltese, Dachshund, Schnauzer, Greyhound, Great Dane, Rottweiler and Doberman do the assessments agree.
Sensitive Maltese, blunt mastiff?
As can be seen in the figure, the interviewed laymen (left) rate Maltese, Chihuahua, Miniature Spitz, Dachshund and Jack Russell Terrier as particularly sensitive to pain. On the other hand, they ascribe low pain sensitivity to Doberman, Rottweiler, Mastiff, German Shepherd and Great Dane.
Average rating of pain sensitivity for each breed (general public on the left, veterinarians on the right).
*** indicate that the evaluation of the respective breed differs between the groups of respondents
NS means that there is no difference in valuation between the two groups
Also according to the veterinarians’ assessment (right), Maltese, Chihuahua, Pygmy Spitz and Dachshund are considered to be particularly sensitive to pain. Instead of the Jack Russell Terrier, however, the Husky is one of the five most pain-sensitive breeds.
There are much greater differences in the evaluation of the five breeds with the lowest pain sensitivity. While the Mastiff is considered by both groups to be particularly insensitive to pain, the veterinarians also rank Pit Bull, Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever and English Bulldog among the breeds that are particularly insensitive to pain.
Does empathy play a role?
Overall, there was also a connection between the assessed sensitivity to pain and the felt attachment to the respective breed. In the general group, the more the interviewees were attached to a race, the more pain-sensitive they felt it was. Thus, the evaluation of pain perception has a direct connection to empathic sympathy. This correlation was exactly the opposite among the veterinarians interviewed: the more sympathetic they felt to a breed, the lower they assessed the sensitivity to pain. It is possible that the interviewed veterinarians interpret pain sensitivity as a higher behavioural reactivity and thus associate it with a more complicated handling during the medical examination. Accordingly, they would rate a calmer and more treatable breed as more pleasant and thus less sensitive to pain.
Prejudices regarding pain sensitivity
The study thus shows that, despite the lack of a physiological basis, there are assumptions about different pain sensitivity in different breeds, both among veterinarians and the general public. The basis for this is probably mainly prejudices, which are also based on certain external characteristics. Especially size seems to play a role. Small, light dogs are generally regarded as more sensitive to pain than large, heavy dogs. Also the assessment of the general public that dogs classified as dangerous are particularly insensitive to pain is based on stereotypical breed images.
Apart from the outward appearance, the personal attitude towards the respective breed as well as the assessment of the temperament seems to influence the judgement of the