Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre

We are an internationally recognised centre of excellence for animal welfare science and bioethical analysis.

What we do

We have expertise in:

  • animal welfare theory and scientific assessment
  • veterinary anaesthesia and analgesia
  • neurophysiology
  • animal behaviour
  • pharmacology
  • animal science
  • conservation and wild animal welfare
  • social science methods

We promote and facilitate humane and responsible interactions with animals. Our approaches are science-based, multi-disciplinary and collaborative.

We achieve this through:

  • scientific research
  • policy advice
  • education
  • expert consultation

We also develop and apply ethical principles relating to human-animal relationships.

The team is led by Co-Directors Craig Johnson and Ngaio Beausoleil and Technical Director, Neil Ward.

Our research

We conduct a broad range of research at the Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre that spans various disciplines, contexts and animal types including production, companion, laboratory and wild animals.

Our research contributes to answering six fundamental questions relevant to the ways that people interact with animals and how their welfare might be affected.

Examples of the kinds of research we do in answer to each question are included below. For more information and to explore other research topics and projects, visit our academic staff profiles or contact us.

What is animal welfare?

Animal welfare is a multi-dimensional concept influenced by ethical, scientific, legal, social and cultural factors.

We primarily use scientific methods to investigate animal welfare states but also explore the underpinning theory of animal welfare and welfare assessment and the ways in which human behaviour can influence animal welfare.

Five Domains Model for welfare assessment

The Five Domains Model was developed within the AWSBC and is useful for guiding systematic and holistic assessments of animals’ welfare states.

The Five Domains has been used to assess the welfare of companion, sport and production animals and captive and free-living wild animals. It is the basis of the welfare assessment component of the Australasian Zoo and Aquarium Association’s Member Accreditation and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums Animal Welfare Strategy.  

Five Domains Model for welfare assessment

Other examples

What can animals experience?

Vertebrate animals and some invertebrates are considered to be sentient – they are capable of having some pleasant and unpleasant experiences that influence their welfare.

For example, there is strong evidence that mammals, birds, fish and other vertebrates can experience pain, but can they feel boredom, loneliness, security or excitement?

We use scientific methods to explore which animals are capable of which experiences. 

Can birds feel breathless?

Every year, millions of poultry are exposed to gas mixtures for stunning before slaughter.

This exposure causes unpleasant respiratory sensations in mammals, but we don’t know whether birds, with their unique respiratory system, are capable of similar experiences.

In collaboration with colleagues in the UK, we are exploring this possibility to ensure that pre-slaughter stunning of poultry is as humane as possible. 

Read published article

Other examples 

  • Do rats feel bored when we give them the same task to do over and over?

How can we recognise animals’ experiences?

What observable or measurable evidence can we use to recognise when an animal is having a particular experience?

We explore and validate a range of behavioural, physiological, biochemical, neurophysiological and histological indicators to help us better recognise animals’ experiences such as:

  • pain
  • fear
  • breathlessness
  • thermal discomfort
  • sickness.  

Gene expression as a biomarker of pain in calves

Removing tissues like horn buds causes damage and pain behaviour in calves. An objective indicator of the intensity of pain caused by different disbudding methods and the efficacy of pain-relieving drugs is needed.

We evaluated patterns of gene expression in blood cells of calves disbudded with or without analgesia. Differences were found in the pattern of gene expression following disbudding and when calves received analgesia. Blood biomarkers offer a promising method to quantify pain and its relief in farm animals. 

Read published article

When are those experiences happening?

We use various indicators to identify situations in which pleasant and unpleasant experiences arise that can compromise or improve animal welfare.

Once we have determined which pleasant and unpleasant experiences a particular kind of animal can have – and validated ways to recognise those experiences – we can use indicators to identify situations in which those experiences arise and can compromise or improve animal welfare.

Does electrical stunning protect crayfish welfare?

Crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters are capable of experiencing pain and other negative sensations.

To ensure that they don’t have such experiences when they are killed, they must be first be stunned.

We measured electrical activity in parts of anaesthetized crayfish’s nervous systems to determine whether stunning using a commercial Crustastun™ device was effective.

All crayfish that fit into the device were immediately stunned or killed, meaning it can be used to safeguard crayfish welfare and restauranteurs can show they are adhering to the NZ Code of Welfare for Commercial Slaughter.

Read a published article

How can we reduce unpleasant experiences and increase pleasant experiences?

For ethical and legal reasons we aim to reduce any unpleasant experiences animals might have and increase their opportunities for pleasant experiences.

A key focus for this research is reducing pain associated with damaging husbandry procedures like tail docking and de-horning.

Investigations to reduce pain include fundamental studies on the effects of analgesic and anaesthetic drugs on the body (pharmacodynamics) and the effects of the body on the drugs (pharmacokinetics). We also develop novel methods for delivering drugs to the target tissues or prolonging their effectiveness to reduce the experience of pain.   

Injectable hydrogels for the slow release of analgesic drugs in birds

Birds metabolise drugs very quickly meaning that their pain-relieving effects don’t last long, or that repeated handling is required to maintain analgesia.

We developed injectable hydrogels to slow the release of analgesic drugs. In vitro studies were used to evaluate drug release from the gels which were then injected into chickens. Hydrogel delivery was found to provide an effective concentration of pain relief for much longer than injecting the drug alone. 

Read a published article

How do human values, attitudes, behaviour and systems influence animal welfare?

The way we interact with animals, the systems we use to manage them and the decisions we make about how they should be treated are all influenced by human values and attitudes.

Because people have different beliefs about what is acceptable or best for animals, their behaviour towards animals and their impacts on animal welfare can vary.

Understanding these human factors is critical to safeguarding and improving animal welfare, and social science methods are often the best way to develop this understanding. 

How cat owners make end-of-life decisions with their vets

Cats are the most common companion animals in New Zealand and advances in veterinary care mean that cats are living longer.

We interviewed owners to understand their experiences and expectations of their vets during end-of-life decision-making for their cats. We found that owners appreciated the expertise and validation of their veterinarian and that strong vet-client relationships were important to making these difficult decisions easier.    

Read a published article

Study with us

We offer a range of undergraduate and postgraduate options in a supportive environment focusing on quality education and training in animal welfare science.

Explore by area of interest

A selection of qualifications relating to Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics

Study animal science

Study animal science at Massey to improve the health, productivity and wellbeing of animals we rely on for companionship, for food, or for sports.

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Study veterinary science

Study at Massey to get hands-on experience in specialist vet clinics for cats and dogs, farm animals, horses and wild birds. Enrol today.

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Who we are

AWSBC is part of the School of Veterinary Science at Massey in Palmerston North.

At the AWSBC we foster collaboration and inclusiveness in research, scholarly, regulatory and other activities. This means forming multi-disciplinary teams that are tailored to meet the needs of each project.

Academic staff

Associate Professor Ngaio Beausoleil

Associate Professor Ngaio Beausoleil

Co-director. Associate Professor, Applied Ethology and Animal Welfare Science
Department
School of Veterinary Science
Professor Craig Johnson

Professor Craig Johnson

Co-director. Professor of Veterinary Neurophysiology and Animal Welfare Science. Director of Ethics
Department
School of Veterinary Sciences

Associate Professor Paul Chambers

Associate Professor in Pharmacology
Department
School of Veterinary Science

Dr Kavitha Kongara

Senior Lecturer in Veterinary Anatomy
Department
School of Veterinary Science
 Preet Singh

Preet Singh

Senior Lecturer in Veterinary Anatomy and Histology
Department
School of Veterinary Science
Dr Nikki Kells

Dr Nikki Kells

Senior Lecturer in Animal Welfare
Department
School of Veterinary Science
 Kat Littlewood

Kat Littlewood

Lecturer in Animal Welfare
Department
School of Veterinary Science
Dr Rene Corner-Thomas

Dr Rene Corner-Thomas

Senior Lecturer- Sheep Research Centre
Department
School of Agriculture and Environment and School of Veterinary Science
Dr Sarah Pain

Dr Sarah Pain

Senior Lecturer in Pastoral Livestock Production
Department
School of Agriculture and Environment and School of Veterinary Science

Technical staff

 Neil Ward

Neil Ward

Senior Technician
Department
School of Veterinary Science
 Allan Nutman

Allan Nutman

Technical Officer
Department
School of Veterinary Science

Erin Willson

Technician - Animal Welfare, Science and Bioethics
Department
School of Veterinary Science
 Antony Jacob

Antony Jacob

Technician in Comparative Physiology and Anatomy
Department
School of Veterinary Science

Mohan Ponnampalam

Animal Welfare Officer

 Juliet Cayzer

Juliet Cayzer

Research Support Veterinarian
Department
Office of the Provost

Our partners

AWSBC is a partner in the Australasia OIE Collaborating Centre for Animal Welfare Science and Bioethical Analysis (The David Bayvel Consortium)

Other centre partners are:

  • AgResearch Animal Behaviour and Welfare Research Centre (New Zealand)
  • Animal Welfare Science Centre, University of Melbourne (Australia)
  • Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics, University of Queensland (Australia)
  • Animal Behaviour and Welfare FD McMaster Laboratory, CSIRO (Australia)

Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre

Ngaio Beausoleil and Craig Johnson

The centre focuses on animal welfare in a range of human-animal interactions. This includes the use of animals in research, teaching, testing, on farms, in the home, for sport, recreation and entertainment, in service roles, zoos and the wild.

Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre

Contact us

We prefer email contact to both co-directors together at: N.J.Beausoleil@massey.ac.nz and C.B.Johnson@massey.ac.nz.

Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre

Location

Postal address
Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre
School of Veterinary Science
Private Bag 11-222
Palmerston North 4442
New Zealand