Does animal welfare training affect students’ attitudes?

Hazel, S.T.,Signal,T.D and Taylor,N. (2011) Can Teaching Veterinary and Animal-Science Students about Animal Welfare Affect Their Attitude toward Animals and Human-Related Empathy?, Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, 38 (1) 74-83.

This study explored veterinary and animal science students’ attitudes before and after taking a course in animal welfare and ethics. Results indicated that their attitudes did change. 

Animal welfare is taking a more predominant role in society, with the general public becoming more concerned about the way animals are treated. The way in which animals are treated, often depends upon people’s views towards them. The cognitive domain of people’s attitudes towards animals includes their beliefs about the animals’ sentience. Their ability to empathise with the animal will affect the emotional domain. This study aimed to explore veterinary and animal science students’ attitudes to animals before and after taking a course in animal welfare and ethics. This is particularly relevant to veterinary education, which has previously been found to be associated with reduced empathy in male veterinary students.

Pet, pest or profit?  

Students were presented with a questionnaire to rate their attitude score. The higher the attitude score, the more that person cares about how animals are treated. Results indicated that students’ attitudes towards animals vary according to the category that the animal is placed in, e.g. pet, pest or profit. The attitude score increased towards pest and profit animals in veterinary students after they completed the welfare and ethics course. Students who stated that they wanted to work with livestock had lower attitude scores in relation to pest and profit animals. In contrast, students who wanted to work with wildlife had higher scores on the pest and profit scale.

World Animal Protection’s view 

We believe that all animals should be treated with equal respect, regardless of how they are categorised by humans. The results from this study demonstrate the importance of welfare and ethical training during veterinary education. It is vital that vets have positive attitudes towards animals, understand the animal welfare implications of their work, and show compassion towards the animals they work with.