What is Animal Welfare Science?
Welfare scientists investigate the well-being of animals managed by humans - for example, animals living as pets, on farms, in research labs, in zoos etc. Welfare science helps improve animals’ lives in an evidence-based way, and touches on fascinating, fundamental biological problems (e.g. the nature of sentience).
- Typical aims are to assess the relative impact of practices like different handling methods, or different types of housing, on animals - to identify those best for welfare and good quality of life.
- Another key aim is validating animal well-being as indicators (e.g. investigating whether particular vocalisations reliably signal pain or hunger).
- Animal welfare research involves collecting behavioural & physiological data to make careful, objective inferences about how animals feel. Behavioural data are crucial because affective states (feelings with an emotional aspect) underpin learning and motivation; physiological measures (e.g. heart-rate or corticosteroid output) are used too, as are changes in animals chronically exposed to aversive conditions (e.g. stereotypic behaviour, immunosuppression & reduced fertility).
- The results of animal welfare science studies are commonly published in the peer-reviewed academic journals “Applied Animal Behaviour Science”, and “Animal Welfare.”
- Welfare scientists are financially supported by basic science funding (e.g. Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, NSERC), & grants from government (e.g. Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, OMAFRA), industry (e.g. Egg Farmers of Canada - EFC, Dairy Farmers of Ontario - DFO and Canada Mink Breeders Association - CMBA) & animal welfare charities (e.g. Universities Federation for Animal Welfare - UFAW).
- Other excellent welfare science groups include those at University of British Columbia - UBC, University of California Davis - UCDavis (in the US), Scotland's Rural College - SRUC & University of Bristol (in the UK).
- The primary professional academic society that animal welfare scientists belong to is the International Society for Applied Ethology (ISAE).