Belief in Emotional Well-Being of Equids Benefits Animals and Humans


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Working equids whose owners believe in their capacity to feel emotion is a fairly new idea, and it turns out that have significantly better health and welfare outcomes than those whose owners do not, according to new research by the University of Portsmouth and international animal welfare charity, The Donkey Sanctuary, published in July in Science Daily.

The study is the first to show a link between the welfare and consideration of animal emotions of working equids – which include donkeys, horses, and mules — and the attitudes and beliefs of their owners, from different countries and cultures. What they have in common is the human animal bond, which is why November 8 is Human Animal Bond Association International Human Animal Bond Day.

Researchers visited equid-owning communities in Egypt, Mexico, Pakistan, Portugal, Senegal, and Spain, where they conducted ​​​​welfare assessments. This included a questionnaire for owners about their beliefs, values and attitudes toward their ​animals​; and a ​detailed assessment​ of the equids’ ​welfare.

The study, also published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, found animals whose owners believed they felt emotions and/or who had an emotional bond with them, were in significantly better health and celebrated higher body condition scores than those whose owners did not consider their animals’ emotions​,​ or who focused on ​solely their utilitarian purposes or how profitable they were​.

Similarly, animals whose owners believed they could feel pain were much less likely to be lame. These relationships were evident ​across multiple​ countries​, in varying socio-economic groups.​ ​​​ ​

This​​ ​is the first study to link owner attitudes to the welfare of their working equids across multiple countries and contexts. The findings highlight the importance of the human animal bond.  So many think of these various equids as predominantly working animals.  However, when animal welfare and emotions are considered, the animals studied benefit, and so do the humans.