Does prior neglect affect the mood of goats?

Briefer, E. F., & McElligott, A. G. (2013). Rescued goats at a sanctuary display positive mood after former neglect. Applied Animal Behaviour Science,146 (1), 45-55.

This research looked at the ability of goats to mentally recover after experiencing poor welfare. Interestingly the results showed that females were more optimistic during recovery compared to male goats.  

Animal mood has previously been shown to influence cognitive bias in rats, dogs, and sheep. Positive moods result in an expectation of more positive and less negative events to occur, and vice-versa. The aim of this study was to investigate the long term effects of previously experienced poor welfare on the mood of goats. Mood differences between two groups of goats housed at a rescue sanctuary were assessed. The first group were known to have previously experienced poor welfare, including untreated injuries and lack of space or shelter. In contrast, the second (control) group had experienced good care. Prior poor welfare was hypothesised to have a long term negative effect on the mood of goats.

Recovering positive moods

The goats’ moods were assessed using a spatial judgement task. Groups were first trained to differentiate between reward and non-reward locations. An ‘ambiguous’ third location was then introduced in between the first two. The time taken for individuals to travel to the ambiguous location was taken as a measurement of mood, based on whether they expected a reward, seen as positive, or no reward, viewed as negative, at the location.

No overall difference between the groups were found, however, sex differences were identified. Females from the poor welfare group showed more optimistic bias than the males who had experienced poor welfare, or the control females. Results suggest that female goats rescued from poor welfare conditions have the potential to recover positive moods following several years (2-6) of good care.

World Animal Protection’s view

We believe that it is crucial to understand which factors affect the emotional state of animals. It is also important to understand individual differences and the possible effects that gender may have on an individual’s recovery from poor welfare. Non-invasive research, such as this, can provide a better understanding of assessing and understanding emotional states in animals.