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Recent advances in animal welfare science

Press release issued: 3 July 2008

Domestic dogs, horses, laying hens and zoo elephants will come under discussion by academics at a major animal welfare conference today.

Domestic dogs, horses, laying hens and zoo elephants will come under discussion by academics at a major animal welfare conference today.

The academics from Bristol University's Animal Behaviour and Welfare Group will be speaking at the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) animal welfare conference on Thursday 3 July.

Assessing the emotional state in the domestic dog is important both in terms of evaluating quality of life and in interpreting behavioural signs that may disrupt the human-dog bond.  The aim of the study entitled, 'The use of 'cognitive bias' as an indicator of affective state in the domestic dog', was to investigate the use of 'cognitive bias' in determining the emotional state in the domestic dog.  The study found that the 'cognitive bias' approach may be useful in evaluating the emotional state in domestic dogs.

Behavioural assessments are increasingly considered to provide the most sensitive and clinically practical means of assessing pain in both humans and animals compared to quantitatively measured physiological, metabolic and hormonal indices.  A study has been conducted examining the performance of objective behavioural and physiological measures in assessing postoperative pain in horses compared to that of two subjective pain-scoring systems: the Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) and the Numerical Rating Scale (NRS), as used by vets and grooms.  The study found the vets and grooms differed significantly in pain scoring tendencies and further research is needed.

The study 'The associations between welfare indicators and environmental choice in laying hens' examined the link between environmental choice and welfare indicator profile for 60 laying hens in three different environments.  Despite some unclear population preferences, individual birds were consistent in their choices, with only four out of the 56 birds making non-transitive choices between the three environments. The study found that different 'types' of birds chose different environments.

 'The elephant in the room - the welfare of elephants in UK zoos' is the first study to examine the welfare of an entire national population of two species of captive zoo elephants using a multidisciplinary approach.  The research indicates that although the physical health of UK elephants might generally be satisfactory, their psychological welfare is a cause for concern.  Unless these issues can be addressed, the ethics of keeping elephants in zoos should be addressed.

Dr Chris Sherwin, Senior Research Fellow in Animal Behaviour and Welfare, Farm Animal Science at Bristol University and one of the speakers at the conference, said: "The conference will bring together highly regarded speakers from the UK, New Zealand and the United States and will provide a unique environment where animal welfare knowledge can be both shared and developed."



Further information

The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) is an independent registered charity that works to develop and promote improvements in the welfare of all animals through scientific and educational activity worldwide.

The University of Bristol’s Animal Behaviour and Welfare Group, based within the Department of Clinical Veterinary Science, is a centre of excellence in animal welfare science, influencing national and international agendas, innovating in all aspects from fundamental to applied research, and working with farm, companion, laboratory, zoo and working animals.

The group provides top quality, research-informed teaching, including a BSc in Animal Behaviour and Welfare, and plays a critical role in developing the careers of scientists interested in animal welfare.

The group aims to maintain and grow its current position as a world leader in animal welfare research, by focusing on the following priorities:

· To carry out high quality fundamental research into animal motivation, cognition and emotion, including the development of novel approaches, to underpin new and better methods for animal welfare assessment.
· To increase understanding of human factors influencing animal welfare and behaviour.
· To define husbandry risk factors and develop practical solutions for existing and emerging welfare problems.
· To develop and evaluate implementation strategies which promote human actions that improve the welfare of animals, at all levels from individuals to populations.

Please contact Joanne Fryer for further information.
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