Learn about the theory of welfare assessment here.
Welfare assessment requires a multi-factorial approach, since no single measure of welfare can allow us to understand an animals' welfare state in isolation. However, any tools for monitoring welfare must be practical and allow rapid welfare assessment.
In our Welfare Assessment Framework, we use behavioural indicators of welfare which are known to correspond to changes in other measures such as mechanical pressure threshold, cardiovascular output, judgement bias and response to challenges. Having been developed in three populations of laboratory-housed dogs, we have expanded our research to include multiple strains of beagle housed in several dog units, with our findings showing that a number of behaviours reliably vary with changing welfare. We also used the Welfare Assessment Framework to monitor changing welfare in our examination of Refinements to dosing by oral gavage, and developed a Welfare Monitoring Tool for use by animal unit staff to monitor welfare using these behavioural indicators.
While all of the behaviours contained in the Welfare Monitoring Tool can be considered part of a dog's normal repertoire of behaviours, it is the duration or frequency with which the behaviours are displayed that indicates welfare state. For example, vigilant behaviours (either 'standing alert' or 'sitting alert' in the WMT) are normally expressed when something attracts the dog's attention. However, when a dog remains vigilant throughout the day, there is an indication of an inability to relax following a startling stimulus, or that the environment is keeping the dog in a state of vigilance. Taking a single measurement would not show this pattern, while measuring behaviour throughout the day indicates changing patterns of behaviour.
Implementing the WMT can also allow staff to monitor changes in welfare following planned Refinements or changes to operating practices by observing changes in scores over time. Regular observation of behaviour also leads to dogs becoming more accustomed to neutral appearances of staff in the animal room (in which there is no positive or negative consequence to staff appearance), leading to staff measuring a more accurate baseline behaviour, and also leading to staff being more able to accurately identify individual dogs and their normal patterns of behaviour, which is vital for reporting of unusual signs during studies.