Farm animal welfare attitudes of Croatian vet students

Ostović, M., Mesić, Ž., Mikuš, T., Matković, K., & Pavičić, Ž. (2016). Attitudes of veterinary students in Croatia toward farm animal welfare. Animal Welfare, 25(1), 21-28.

This study is the first to examine the opinions of Croatian veterinary undergraduates on farm animal welfare. The authors measured the empathy levels of these students towards farm animals, and compared the results of each academic year to investigate which year group displayed the most empathy.

Veterinary professionals have a growing role in promoting and protecting animal welfare, and as such should have sufficient knowledge, skills, and compassion for animal welfare issues, including farm animal welfare (FAW). However, previous research has identified variances in the content of veterinary student education worldwide in regards the teaching of animal welfare and/or ethics. This suggests that not all vet students are adequately equipped with the necessary skills or empathy, after graduation from university.

This study was the first to examine the opinions of veterinary students from Croatia in regards to farm animal welfare. It also aimed to identify potential gaps in the veterinary education system there. Through a series of closed-ended questions and a five-point Likert scale, the authors were able to measure the empathy levels of undergraduate vet students (from first to sixth year) from the University of Zagreb on FAW issues. The first year students were questioned twice, both before and after completing a 40-hour course, ‘Environment, Animal Behaviour and Welfare’.

Empathy levels decreased as students progressed

Although over half of the participant’s had no prior experience with farm animals, the results showed that, overall, students demonstrated high levels of empathy towards farm animals, with those in the lower years finding animal welfare to be more important than those in the higher years.  However, results also showed that students only related good welfare to the biological functioning of the animals, rather than to the natural living conditions or emotional state of the animals. There were also conflicts in regards animal cognition, and or analgesic needs for common procedures such as castration and beak trimming. Students tended to associate higher welfare requirements to the species they were more familiar with (e.g. Cattle) over unfamiliar species (e.g. Poultry).

Overall, these results suggest that some alterations may need to be made to veterinary education in Croatia. Due to these students not perceiving different farm animals and the procedures carried out on them equally, the authors suggest that perhaps more practical and theoretical courses are required to enable these future vets to practice good farm animal welfare.

World Animal Protection’s view

Here at World Animal Protection, we believe that every animal should be protected, regardless of their species. It is vital that veterinary students, who are the future of animal protection, are taught to recognise the needs of all the animal who they will treat in their lives as practicing veterinarians. Additionally, it is imperative that empathy for animals is not lost as students progress through veterinary education, and studies like this are important to identify why, and when, this occurs so that students can be supported at all stages.