RVC Animal Welfare Science and Ethics - Projects
Breeding for better broiler welfare: balancing sustainability, economic and consumer preferences
We aim to provide a comprehensive analysis of the impacts of, opportunities for and barriers to shifting UK chicken meat production towards slower-growing, better welfare broiler breeds.
Multiple breed comparison studies have shown that slower growing broilers have better welfare outcomes, in terms of both health and natural behaviour, than traditional fast growing breeds.
Do lop-eared rabbits have more dental and aural disease than erect-eared rabbits?
Initial evidence has shown that rabbits with artificially selected extreme morphological traits of lop ears and brachycephaly experience reduced welfare through a higher prevalence of painful ear and teeth problems, a cause for concern as lops and dwarves are the most popular pet rabbit breeds in the UK. This study aims to determine the prevalence of these diseases in UK pet rabbits using VetCompass data that represents approximately 30% of UK practices.
Epilepsy in companion animals
Researchers and clinicians at the RVC have devoted more than a decade of work to improving our understanding of epilepsy in dogs, as well as cats. Ongoing RVC epilepsy research is improving the characterisation of this chronic disorder and its comorbidities, develops technology to aid its long-term management for vets and owners, and identifies fresh new ways to manage this age-old disorder.
Livestock and other animals are stunned and dispatch for slaughter, disease control and population management.
The RVC has a well-established Animal Welfare Science and Ethics research centre and members of the team study methods of stunning and dispatch of a variety of species in a variety of settings. The research is designed to help systems evolve and become more humane and less stressful for animals.
The research is shared with stakeholders, which enables them to make scientifically informed changes that reduce animal distress.
Ethics of animal use and management
Animal welfare issues often arise when there are conflicts of interest between humans and animals. This poses challenges around whose interests to prioritise, and what actions can be taken to produce the best moral outcome. The needs and wants of human, animal, and even environmental stakeholders must be understood and evaluated to decide what is the right course of action, but different ethicists and stakeholders may disagree about the conclusions of any ethical analysis. For example, unnecessary suffering must not be caused to legally protected animals, but what counts as ‘suffering’, when is it really ‘necessary’, and which animals should be protected? Evidence must be gathered and some consensus must be agreed upon as to weight the different possible actions.
Development of welfare assessment protocols and technology
Assessment of animal welfare is continually being improved using new insights in animal behaviour, non-invasive physiological methods, animal-environment interactions, and novel monitoring systems for animal responses and behaviours.
Some of our work aims to develop a more fundamental understanding of which measures (e.g. behaviour, activity, posture etc) should most appropriately be targeted with sensor technology. However, technology is not always feasible (or even desirable) in some sectors, so we develop welfare assessments that are valid and practical in whatever context they are needed and tailored to the specific welfare aim.
Assessing and Improving Animal Welfare
Genetics and management can greatly affect the welfare of farm, laboratory, companion and wild animals. We aim to improve animal welfare by understanding how human activities and management practices affect the welfare of animals that are kept, killed or otherwise impacted by humans. Comparative research can identify practices that generally elicit poor or good welfare outcomes, providing evidence that can be used to support initiatives to improve animal welfare.
Fundamental understanding of welfare
Animal welfare refers to animal feelings, health, and environmental suitability. These projects explore which animals are sentient and what feelings they have, and how behaviour, health, environments, and welfare interrelate. We use a wide range of techniques to investigate these fundamental questions, each of which is tailored to the particular hypothesis and species involved. Emotions are subjective (private) to the individual experiencing them, which makes them challenging to investigate scientifically.