Scientific assessment of animal welfare

Scientific assessment of animal welfare
Peer reviewed

Abstract

Animal welfare is a state within the animal and a scientific perspective provides methodologies for evidence-based assessment of an animal's welfare. A simplistic definition of animal welfare might be how the animal feels now. Affective experiences including emotions, are subjective states so cannot be measured directly in animals, but there are informative indirect physiological and behavioural indices that can be cautiously used to interpret such experiences. This review enunciates several key science-based frameworks for understanding animal welfare. The biological functioning and affective state frameworks were initially seen as competing, but a recent more unified approach is that biological functioning is taken to include affective experiences and affective experiences are recognised as products of biological functioning, and knowledge of the dynamic interactions between the two is considered to be fundamental to managing and improving animal welfare. The value of these two frameworks in understanding the welfare of group-housed sows is reviewed. The majority of studies of the welfare of group-housed sows have employed the biological functioning framework to infer compromised sow welfare, on the basis that suboptimal biological functioning accompanies negative affective states such as sow hunger, pain, fear, helplessness, frustration and anger. Group housing facilitates social living, but group housing of gestating sows raises different welfare considerations to stall housing, such as high levels of aggression, injuries and stress, at least for several days after mixing, as well as subordinate sows being underfed due to competition at feeding. This paper highlights the challenges and potential opportunities for the continued improvement in sow management through well-focused research and multidisciplinary assessment of animal welfare. In future the management of sentient animals will require the promotion of positive affective experiences in animals and this is likely to be a major focus for animal welfare science activity in the early twenty-first century.


KEY WORDS: Animal welfare, assessment, behaviour, stress, emotions, animal ethics, sow welfare

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