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Brain measures which tell us about animal welfare

By D. M. Broom, A. J. Zanella

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Studies of the brain inform us about the cognitive abilities of animals and hence, affect the extent to which animals of that species are respected. However, they can also tell us how an individual is likely to be perceiving, attending to, evaluating, coping with, enjoying, or disturbed by its environment, and so can give direct information about welfare. In studies of welfare, we are especially interested in how an individual feels. Since this depends upon high-level brain processing, we have to investigate brain function. Brain correlates the preferred social, sexual and parental situations which also includes elevated oxytocin in the para-ventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus. Abnormal behaviour may have brain correlates, for example, high frequencies of stereotypy are associated with down-regulated mu and kappa receptors and dopamine depletion in the frontal cortex. Such results help in evaluating the effects of treatment on welfare. Some brain changes, such as increased glucocorticoid receptors in the frontal lobes or increased activity in the amygdala, may be a sensitive indicator of perceived emergency. Active immunological defences lead to cytokine production in the brain, vagal nerve activity and sickness effects. Some aspects of brain function can be temporarily suppressed, for example, by opioids when there is severe pain, or permanently impaired, for example, in severely impoverished environments or during depression. Coping attempts or environmental impact can lead to injury to the brain, damage to hippocampal neurons, remodelling of dendrites in the hippocampus, or to other brain disorganization. Brain measures can explain the nature and magnitude of many effects on welfare.

Date 2004
Publication Title Animal Welfare
Volume 13
Issue Supplement
Pages S41-S45
ISBN/ISSN 0962-7286
Language English
Author Address Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ES, UK.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal physiology
  2. Animal rights
  3. Animal welfare
  4. Brain
  5. Cerebrum
  6. Cognition
  7. Dopamine
  8. Glucocorticoids
  9. Hypothalamus
  10. Mental development
  11. neurophysiology
  12. peer-reviewed
  13. receptors
  1. peer-reviewed