Normal/Abnormal Behavior

Animals perform many different behaviors every day to interact with themselves, other animals, humans, and their environment. An animal’s activity may change based on something they experience.

The majority of behaviors can be categorized as either normal or abnormal. Normal behaviors are actions we expect to see from animals, such as playing or grooming. Typically, normal behaviors tell us that an animal is happy, healthy, and relaxed in its environment. When animals become stressed, bored, or sick, they may perform ‘abnormal behaviors’ such as biting, hiding, or pacing. Abnormal actions should not be performed often, but when an animal is trying to cope with their negative environment or a negative experience, they may perform these abnormal actions more frequently and with greater intensity.

It’s important for us to understand animal behaviors so we can identify the behavior, determine what causes it, and determine if it benefits or harms the animal.

Search for Scientific Literature on Animal Behavior

USDA. NAL. Animal Welfare Information Center (AWIC). 

Below are a few general canned searches (a pre-made, standardized search strategy) to find literature on animal normal and abnormal behavior. If you want to find literature on these topics for a certain species, you can build upon these search strings by including animal keywords. For example, edit the search to include “(pig OR pigs OR swine OR porcine)” to find information on normal and abnormal behaviors of pigs. To learn more about building search strings, visit AWIC's alternatives literature searching page.




Captive Animal Behavior   ( PDF | 1.32 MB )

Wild Welfare. 

These 2021 recommendations from Wild Welfare focus on captive animal husbandry and welfare practices related to animal behavior . 

General Ethograms  ( PDF | 194 KB )

National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs).

This document contains general ethograms adapted from peer-reviewed literature. These ethograms, along with the literature and additional resources, can be used to create a catalogue of behaviors that are relevant to your study. 

USDA. ARS. The Livestock Behavior Research Unit. 

The mission of the Livestock Behavior Research Unit is to develop scientific measures of animal well-being, through the study of animal behavior, stress physiology, immunology, neurophysiology, and cognition. This method of study will allow the improvement of existing practices that can enhance animal well-being and increase animal productivity. 

University of Stirling, Primate Society of Great Britain, and National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement, & Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs).

This section of the Common Marmoset Care website provides an interactive ethogram of marmoset behavior.

National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs).

This resource describes Macaques' behavioral repertoire and their communiation signals to provide a better understanding of their welfare. 

USDA. NAL. Animal Welfare Information Center (AWIC).

 AWIC partnered with the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) AgLab team to provide kids and teens with a creative way to learn about different animal behaviors through drawing and painting!

USDA. NAL. Animal Welfare Information Center (AWIC).

 In collaboration with USDA Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) AgLab team, AWIC created an interactive card matching/memory game for kids and teens to learn about the behaviors of animals they might interact with in their daily lives.