Measuring animal welfare and applying scientific advances - Why is it still so difficult?

Venue: Royal Holloway, University of London, Surrey, UK

Background and Aims of the Symposium

Animal welfare science is a relatively young field but it is developing rapidly. A recent review noted that over the last two decades the number of scientific publications in this area has increased by 10-15% annually.  This research has been used to make many real improvements to the welfare of animals throughout the world.  

There seems to be a growing consensus that what matters to those animals that are presumed to experience feelings, and therefore what should matter most to those concerned about animal welfare, is how those animals feel. However, this raises difficult questions, some of which are fundamental to the development of animal welfare science as a rigorous scientific discipline and the assessment of animal welfare. For example:


·       Will we ever be able to demonstrate sentience? Knowing where to draw the line about which animals to care for is important to, avoid wasting scarce resources on animals that are not sentient, and to ensure that animals that are sentient are protected. Are there new techniques that could help or is the problem insoluble? Where should the line be drawn?

·       Are the techniques that we have to study emotional state (affect) adequate or are there new and better ways of assessing how animals feel about themselves and their environment?  How should we best choose and interpret measures? Do technological advances offer us alternative approaches? Is it worth trying to put a numerical value on animal welfare or are qualitative measures more appropriate?

·       How does time fit into the equation? Over what period of time should welfare be considered – what is meaningful and relevant to the animal? Do animals experience time as we do? How should we weigh up the challenges and good experiences to come so as to arrive at a view about the animals lifetime experience, and is this worth doing?

·       How important is positive welfare? Should preventing suffering be our first priority or should we now be looking to maximise enjoyable experiences for animals in our care too? Is a permanent state of positive welfare possible, or do animals reset their emotional state so that attempts to achieve positive welfare are doomed to failure as the animal habituates to a better than adequate environment? What happens when those experiences preferred by an animal have a long-term negative impact on health?

·       How robust is the data collected on animal welfare? Are there lessons to be learnt from other areas of research with respect to e.g. blinding, randomization, pre-registration of hypotheses, null results, meta-analysis, clinical trials?


With the aim of developing new ideas and of promoting higher quality and better-focused animal welfare science, this symposium will consider whether and how animal welfare scientists can make progress in these and other areas. 


Speakers will include:

  • Professor Georgia Mason (University of Guelph, Canada), ‘Using welfare indicators to make valid inference about animals' subjective states, with a focus on HPA responses and stereotypic behaviour’
  • Professor Mike Mendl (University of Bristol, UK) ‘Animal affect: What is it, what do we know, and what can we know?’ and
  • Professor Jaak Panksepp (Washington State University, USA) ‘The emotional feelings of other minds: From neuroaffective foundations to novel therapeutics (especially depressions)’


Call for papers

We would like to hear from anyone interested in making a contribution to the symposium on the subjects and themes detailed above or others relating to measuring animal welfare and to animal welfare and the sciences and other disciplines associated with it – eg applied ethology, veterinary, physiological and neuroscience.


Submissions should feature the title of the proposed presentation, the nature of the presentation – talk or poster, and the name and full contact details of all contributors. Abstracts must be in English and should be no longer than 400 words. Full details on formatting these can be found on the UFAW website. Time allocated to talks at the meeting is likely to be in region of 20-25 minutes.


The deadline for submission of abstracts is 30th November 2016.


Further details on this meeting can be found here: and updates on social media.


Contact details:

Stephen Wickens, Royal Holloway 2017

UFAW, The Old School, Brewhouse Hill, Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire, AL4 8AN, UK

Tel: +44 (0) 1582 831818; Fax: +44 (0) 1582 831414

Website:; Email:


Follow us: Facebook: Universities Federation for Animal Welfare - UFAWTwitter: @UFAW_1926


This website may use cookies which enable you to personalize your experience on our site, tell us which parts of our website people have visited and give us insights into user behavior so we can improve our communication and products.

Settings   Info  



These cookies are essential to enable you to browse around our website and use the features.
These cookies enable storage of information that changes the way a website behaves or looks, like settings for your preferred language or region.
These cookies collect information about how you use our website. These cookies are also used to let affiliates know if you came to one of our websites from an affiliate. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous.

Cookie Name  Value  ExpiresTypedescription