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  resources > scientific studies


Key to any discussion of animal cruelty is the science of animal health and welfare.

What defines the 'health and well-being' of each animal (and who makes this determination) can influence the results and outcomes of any investigation of regulation.

The World Health Organization defines "health" as:

"A complete state of physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."

"Well-being" is defined (as per David Fraser, Research Scientist, Centre for Food and Animal Research)

"The scientific assessment of the well-being of an animal involves finding indicators of three broad criteria:

1) a high level of biological functioning;

2) freedom from suffering in the sense of prolonged fear, pain, and other negative experienes;

3) positive experiences, such as comfort and contentment."

In some scientific literature, well-being is a component of health while others consider the reverse to be true — that health is a component of well-being. While there are exceptions, both terms — 'health' and 'well-being' — are most commonly considered to include both physical and mental aspects.


The science of animal welfare and animal production

Some authorities have interpreted “health” in terms of physical health only or disease eradication as it relates to physical health and conditions, which has limited how the animal cruelty statute is interpreted. An animal's psychological or mental health, seen as a component of animal well-being, has been controversial though studies on this aspect of health are becoming more common.

Historically, animal health in Minnesota has been guided by agricultural interests with an eye to animal production science (emphasis on efficiency to achieve maximum profits or minimal costs to an industry). Those who think progressively in regards to animal health have incorporated animal welfare science (health and well-being for the animal’s sake) into production standards, practices and protocols, recognizing that if an animal is treated positively that can have a positive impact on production and finances.

NOTE: Industry standards are established by those in the industry. This fact suggests a conflict of interest as the motive for the industry is to make a profit. True standards would incorporate both the perspective of the animal and of the industry.

Marlene K. Halverson, in a 2001 Technical Working Paper to the Minnesota Legislature (see below), defines animal health as “not merely the absence of disease or injury but the presence of robust characteristics, that is, the animal’s ability to cope with the environment.” Further, animal “welfare encompasses both health and well-being and these are conceptualized as being for the animal’s sake, not simply for the sake of productive efficiency.”

Technical Working Paper: Farm Animal Health and Well-Being for the State of Minnesota by Marlene Halverson


Scientific studies and reports: animal well-being

There are numerous studies dealing with dogs and cats specifically. Some of these studies document the conditions of animals (physical and emotional/mental states) due to lack of proper care in high volume facilities; other studies provide examples of positive treatment of animals.

One key study was conducted by Dr. Frank McMillan from Best Friends Animal Society. Over 1,000 dogs from breeding facilities were assessed with a focus on mental health.

Mental Health of Dogs from Breeders by McMillan


Because dogs can't speak, scientists have relied on behavioral observations to infer what dogs are thinking. By using M.R.I. scanners, scientists have now looked directly at dogs' brains to see how they work. Conclusion: "The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child. And this ability suggests a rethinking of how we treat dogs." Link to article describing the findings is below.

Dogs Are People, Too


In 2010, the Association for Shelter Veterinarians (ASV) created Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters. This was a major initiative that, among other goals, "establishes what is required for a decent quality of life for populations of companion animals." These guidelines are not only a tool for animal care and well-being in shelters, but could be seen as a resource for how populations of dogs and cats in other facilities, such as breeding facilities, should be handled.

ASV Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters


In 2013, the 6th Boehringer Ingelheim Expert Forum (Bilbao, Spain) published a report entitled Farm Animal Well-Being. This report asks and answers such questions as:

• Can the well-being of an animal be meaured objectively?

• Is farm animal welfare a commodity?

• In what sense does animal welfare have an economic value?

• On-farm welfare audits...An opportunity for the veterinary profession?

The full report, online presentations and a description of the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards Program are provided on the link below.

Farm Animal Well-Being by Boehringer Ingelheim Expert Forum


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