Auntie Marie Muffins ready for delivery

Auntie Marie Muffins ready for delivery
The treats a horse just can't refuse! Sweet feed molasses muffins!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Care about Animal Welfare? Here's a share

Today, was a day packed full of activities. Most importantly, I was at work in the large animal wards of the veterinary hospital attending to many patients. However, during my lunch hour I was able to slip out and attend a fantastic discussion about Animal welfare in relation to Horses. 

Dr. Katrina Merkies, a professor at the university of Guelph since 2006, teaches a variety of equine- focused courses. She is responsible for the formation of the BBRM Equine Management degree program. Her current research is focused on equine behaviour and welfare specifically the intricacies of the horse-human interaction. She often presents her research at the international conferences, she is a board member on the National Association of Equine Affiliated Academics and was recently elected as a council member for the International Society of Equitation Science. (ISES)

Today she spoke specifically in relation to:
Horse behaviour and the application of the Learning Theory in Equine Veterinary Medicine

The discussion started by identifying the definitions of ; Animal Welfare and Animal Rights
two very different things, both involving animals

Animal Welfare-The absence of negative states 
Animal Rights- The right an animal has to live free from the uses and services of humans.

We talked about how Welfare is evaluated and gave examples of ways to provide welfare, such as; ensuring laying hens are happy and allowing them to fulfill their natural desire of nest making. 

Dr. Merkies basically suggested that Animal Welfare is a threefold diagram.

Three circles, all overlapping in the center. 
1) Basic Health and functioning
2) How Animals Feel
3) Natural Living

Ethology is the study of behaviour and an Ethogram is something used to describe behaviour. 
For example, "biting": to bite, tear, or grind with teeth. 

Certain behaviours are associated with specific affective states, and there are certain behvaiours that are responses to human actions. 
Dr. Merkies referred to Monty Roberts and his "join up" technique. (See video here) As a gentle way of training a horse and having a positive behavioural response to a human action. 

We talked about the way animals feel, how horses "feel". Animals can experience:
frustrations (pacing, weaving, calling)
contentment (standing calm, nickering, smelling and sniffing a handler, nuzzling, and snuggling)

Being that this course was particularly a veterinary student course, we talked about how veterinarians specifically can deal with behaviour problems in client owned animals. 
restraint techniques that are safe, gentle, yet affective
we talked about how alot of veterinarians just "don't have the time to train a clients horse"
instead of taking the time to deal with an animal in the correct and patient manner, it may be easier to use techniques to get the job done quickly.
However, in the LONG TERM, we are actually spending MORE time fighting with the animal, then if we had taken the time initially to train the animal with a positive experience, thus eliminating the need to ever fight over a procedure again. 
Interesting concept, no?   This brought up the topic of a Learning Theory.   

(more info here)  
and for horses specifically the site has a lot of great information!

Our conclusion was that we need to make this a better world for everyone. So we need to understand 
classical conditioning   - (heard of pavlov's theory?)

operant conditioning
client education

All of these will be discussed in a future post.

We also talked about non- associative learning vs. sensitization.

We talked about the horrible state an animal can experience called "emotional despair" caused by a handler or human "flooding" the animal.
 For an example of this refer to this description on learned helplessness to understand the situation a little better. 
(Thankfully, with improved awareness, discussions, and legal implications we can no longer experiment with animals in such a way)

We briefly discussed the body's chemical (dopamine) response to stimulus and its affect on the behaviour of an animal. 

There are so many things to understand about an animal. It takes careful observation, movements, treatment, and decisions by handlers to ensure that the animal is safe and understood in many different situations, environments, and stimuluses.
It is complicated and it is so VERY important. 

Lastly, we talked about how horses have a very good memory. Especially in relation to fear. 
Horses can develop behaviour problems and become; evasive, fearful, and neurotic.
This is dangerous for the horse, and for the people around it.

What can we do as veterinary professionals to ensure we are taking the appropriate measures to improve the welfare of the animals we work with?

Interested in more topics related to welfare? Click here to Participate!

Stay tuned on more articles in the future regarding the behaviour and welfare of animals and specifically horses!

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