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Recent advances in animal welfare science VI

crowd of chickens

UFAW Animal Welfare Conference

Centre for Life, Newcastle, UK
28 June 2018



The field of animal welfare is a cross-disciplinary area of study that seeks to offer guidance and find solutions to the challenges raised by our caring for and interactions with both kept and wild animals. As part of its on-going commitment to improving animal welfare through increased scientific understanding of animals’ needs and how these can be met, UFAW is holding the sixth of its series of one day conferences on ‘Recent advances in animal welfare science’ on 28 June 2018.

This regular meeting, which is held in Newcastle this year for the first time, aims to provide a forum at which the broad and growing international community of scientists, veterinary surgeons and others concerned with animal welfare can come together to share knowledge and practice, discuss advances and exchange views.

The Centre for Life, Newcastle was the venue on the 28th June for the latest of our going programme of one day conferences. These biennial ‘Recent advances in animal welfare science’, of which this was the sixth, are aimed at established animal welfare scientist and those at the beginning of their research careers and once again addressed animal welfare concerns across and an impressive variety of talks and posters.

In addition to talks which addressed fundamental issues of measuring and understanding animal welfare, the 200 plus delegates also heard about a range of practical solutions to welfare problems.

Helena Telkanranta, from the University of Bristol, opened the day by talking about her work – which UFAW is supporting - on how best to use infrared thermography to assess animal welfare and avoid some of the problems associated with the technique. Infrared thermography involves the use of a thermal camera to measure subtle differences and changes in animals’ skin or eye temperatures. These reflect variations in blood flow and muscle contraction, and it is thought that these can be linked to how the animal is feeling. Emotional arousal activates the sympathetic nervous system which in turn leads to constriction in blood vessels on the surface of the animal and a corresponding drop in temperature, which is then in time followed by a gradual temperature increase. She warned that care needs to be taken though as there are a range of factors that may effect any reading taken, including recent exercise, metabolic activity, diurnal rhythm, ambient temperature, humidity and nearby heat-reflecting surfaces. Even the angle at which the thermal camera is in relation to the surface of the animal can influence the reading.

The next talk was from Clare Andrews, who was one of a substantial contingent of Newcastle University researchers present at the conference. Clare discussed how time perception might be a useful technique by which to measure emotional state in animals. Using findings in humans that time is perceived as passing more quickly when an individual is in a positive mood, and more slower when people are fearful or anxious. Clare then reported on work undertaken with starlings to test this paradigm in her lab. In the experiment starlings were tested to see whether taking away enrichment from their aviary might slow their perception of time, whereas adding further enrichment to their cage may achieve the opposite. This possible shift in time perception was assessed by asking the starlings to peck a key after a fixed time period to gain a reward. This initial experiment showed no difference between the time taken to peck of starlings in altered cages but Clare put forward some reasons for this and is looking to further refine the technique as she feels that the paradigm still offers potential as a means of assessing welfare.

Other talks included that by Dale Sandercock (Scotland’s Rural College, UK) on the potentially painful long-term effects of tail docking and tail biting in pigs. By looking at the activity of genes in nerves of the tail stump, Dale showed that it was possible to still detect significant and sustained changes in genes associated with the detection and transmission of pain signals, four months after the tail had been docked. The implication of these findings are that the stump is still causing the pig pain at this time. These was also a short discussion as to what this might mean for other animals that have had their tail docked eg dogs.

Anne Sinclair, also part of Dale’s research group, talked about her investigation of long term pain caused by the practice of tooth clipping and grinding in piglets, which often causes the tooth to become jagged, fracture or shatter, revealing the pulp cavity and the nerves contained in it. Similarly to Sale, she looked at the activity of certain genes associated with inflammation and pain perception in nerves within the tooth pulp cavity and showed that these were significantly altered indicating both a prolonged inflammatory state in the pulp of teeth six weeks after the procedure and prolonged pain signalling. Whilst routine clipping or grinding of teeth is not permitted and must be justified on health grounds, her findings suggest that further clarification on this issue is needed.

Other talks looked at the most prevalent health issues in dogs, factors that may lie behind the continued and increased ownership of brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds of dog despite their health issues and the need for veterinarians to be better trained on how to deal with end of life issues in pets and decision making on when it is time to euthanase – to both ensure the welfare of the animals and to prepare the owner for the event.

For those with an interest in equines, Britta Osthaus (Canterbury Christ Church University, UK) gave a fascinating talk on her work evaluating the housing needs of donkeys and showing that these differed considerably from the horse. She explained that donkeys do not grow a winter coat and the properties of their coat differ from that of horses such that they are less ‘waterproof’. They also lose heat from different areas (proportionately more from the ears and hind quarters). The impact of this is that donkeys are less well adapted to temperate climates than horses and are more likely to seek shelter when it rains or at lower temperatures, but conversely can tolerate hotter temperatures. This has led to a recommendation that donkeys are provided with access to roofed shelters with solid walls and dry, clean standing – a recommendation that has now been incorporated into the latest Defra Code of practice for equines.

Abstracts for all these talks, and for the 70+ posters that were presented at the conference can be found on the UFAW website: www.ufaw.org.uk/recentadvances2018

We would like to thank all those who contributed to the conference and helped make it so stimulating and enjoyable – the speakers, the poster presenters and chairs – and a special thanks to Clare Andrews for the temporary use of her computer! We would also like to thank the staff at Newcastle University for supporting the conference so full heartedly and for the ‘Whey Aye Welfare’ event they kindly laid on for those ‘bonny lads and lasses‘ amongst the delegates who arrived in Newcastle the night before the conference.


The conference is being held at the Centre for Life, Times Square, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 4EP, UK. Located within a two minute walk from Newcastle Central Railway Station, the venue includes an award-winning Science Centre, a 4D Motion Ride and planetarium.

Travel information and downloadable maps of Newcastle can be found here and maps of the area surrounding the Centre for Life can be found here and here. Car parking is available at Times Square. A map of Newcastle Metro can be found here.