Animal welfare for youth: Part 6 – Affective states

This series will explore basic concepts of animal welfare and why 4-H youth involved in animal projects should understand this subject.

Three Circles Model of Animal Welfare, adapted from Appleby, Lund, and Fraser and colleagues.
Three Circles Model of Animal Welfare, adapted from Appleby, Lund, and Fraser and colleagues.

This is the sixth in a series of articles from Michigan State University Extension aimed to help 4-H club leaders discuss animal welfare concepts with youth. In Part 1, animal welfare was defined, Part 2 provided an outline of the Five Freedoms, Part 3 introduced the Three Circles Model, Part 4 detailed Basic Health and Functioning in model, and Part 5 explored Natural Living. Part 6 will cover the last circle: Affective States. The ideas presented here can be used with any 4-H animal science project because the questions and concepts apply to all species, including beef, sheep, swine, dairy, poultry, rabbits and cavies, companion animals, goats, and horses and ponies.

Defining Affective States

To review the definition from Part 3, the Affective States circle is concerned with the emotions (e.g. pain, pleasure, etc.) and other feeling states (e.g. hunger, thirst, etc.) of the animal. Animals should feel mentally well and not be subjected to excessive negative feelings, such as pain, hunger and distress. More than just avoiding negative emotions, animals should be experiencing positive emotions in the forms of contentment or pleasure, which can be achieved with enrichment such as play or appropriate social contact, to name a few examples. Affective States relate mostly closely back to the freedom from hunger and thirst (Freedom 1); pain, injury, and disease (Freedom 3); and fear and distress (Freedom 5).

Affective States are perhaps the most abstract circle and the hardest to understand in this model. Since it is not possible to have a conversation with an animal, it can be difficult to objectively assess their Affective State. For example, it is easier to talk about hunger and thirst impacting Basic Health and Functioning. Without proper nutrition, animals will not grow properly, they will not produce or perform as efficiently, and their health could be severely impacted.

What may not be considered is how a lack of or delayed feeding would impact the animal in non-physical ways. For animals under human care, people are depended upon to provide food and water because the animals are in environments where they are not allowed to seek nourishment themselves or may not have had the opportunity to properly develop skills necessary to acquire food. This makes it very difficult for the animal to feed itself, which may be a stressful situation. On the other side, even if a feeding schedule is very normal, the animal could be experiencing a negative Affective State if more or a different food is desired.

Back to the Five Freedoms

In returning to the Five Freedoms, this circle relates back to several freedoms that have already been discussed: freedom from hunger and thirst (Freedom 1); pain, injury, and disease (Freedom 3); and fear and distress (Freedom 5). A few examples of positive and negative Affective States will help illustrate the connection to these freedoms.

Hunger and thirst

A family dog is fed a well-balanced dry dog food twice a day to meet all the animal’s health needs and fresh water is always available. As a treat, the dog is often given “people food” while the family eats dinner. These treats have a positive impact on the dog’s Affective State because they taste good and it is a pleasurable experience. However, after a recent veterinary visit, the family is told the dog needs to lose weight and it is recommended to stop feeding “people food” as an easy way to reduce caloric intake. At the next family dinner, the dog does not receive any treats, so he begs and appears to sulk. His Affective State has been negatively impacted because his pleasure is decreased by not being fed the delicious “people food.”

Pain, injury and disease

A pasture-based dairy in central Michigan grazes cows for as much of the year as possible. The dairy operates on a rotational system where cows have access to a fresh paddock about every 48 hours. The paddocks and alleys are divided by a hot-wire fence to keep the cattle in the correct area and out of other locations. Access to pasture positively impacts the cows’ Affective State because research has shown pasture access reduces lameness and increases foot and leg health of dairy cows, decreasing pain and injury. However, when a cow tries to cross into a different paddock or is crowded down the walk-way to the open paddock, she may touch the hot wire fence, experiencing a negative Affective State as she encounters the small electric shock.

Fear and distress

Cats, though domesticated as pets, are still solitary predators who like to have high places from which they can rest and watch their surroundings. Providing a shelf, ledge or other tall place will help create a positive Affective State for a cat by allowing a location to perch and escape. If, however, the cat is trapped in the high location and unable to run away from a perceived threat, this may be a stressful situation.

Talking with youth about Affective States

  • Remind youth of previous conversations about the first circle, Basic Health and Functioning, and the second circle, Natural Behaviors, as well as the Five Freedoms. Talk about the connection of these two circles in meeting many of the needs of the animals.
  • Ask the youth what other parts of the Five Freedoms have yet to be discussed. Beyond physical needs, what needs do animal have? It might be difficult for youth to find the right words to describe, so referring the Five Freedoms will help them have the language to talk about non-physical needs.
  • Once youth mention Freedom 5, freedom from fear and distress, make the connection (if they haven’t already) to the third circle: Affective States. Use whatever specie of animal the club is most involved in – cattle, swine, dogs, etc. – to discuss this topic. Take time to define Affective States as described here because it is a term and definition many youths may not be familiar with.
  • After you have spent some time discussing what situations, encounters with other animals or people, or events (e.g., a thunderstorm, etc.) might cause fear or distress to an animal, ask the youth to think about the other freedoms again. Are there some that have already been discussed that might also fit into Affective States? Listen to the discussion and talking points the youth bring up to see how and where they make connections to Freedom 1, freedom from hunger and thirst, and Freedom 3, freedom from pain, injury, and disease. If they do not make these connections, use the examples listed above to help them think about Affective States with other freedoms.
  • It is often easy to think and talk about negative Affective States and how to prevent them. Try to turn the conversation to the positive instead. How can youth help to provide positive Affective States for their animals? Examples could be spending time working with the animal so both the youth and the animal are comfortable with each other. Species-appropriate enrichment, such as play, is another way that both youth and animals may bond and create benefits for each other. There are so many ways that youth can help create situations for positive Affective States. Let their imagination run wild!

Talking about Affective States with youth is probably the most difficult concept of the Three Circles Model to discuss, but it is an important topic to cover. When youth have a better understanding that animals can experience both positive, negative and neutral states, it will help them to see it takes more to care for an animal than just meeting their physical needs.

Stay tuned for Part 7 of this series, which will include real-world examples to use as conversation starters to help youth practice critical thinking and communication skills about animal welfare.

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