Imagine what you would miss if you were kept in a cell in solitary confinement. The same diet day in day out, without any sun, wind, rain and other forms of precipitation, with little sensory changes in sound, textures other than metal bars, bedding, or plastic, concrete, metal floors and walls, no choice of mates, without space to run, being unable to go where you want to go, and so on. This is why I say that keeping animals in captivity is impoverished for them. So keeping animals in such life-sustaining but otherwise inadequate housing conditions for the whole of their lives may cause considerable long-term suffering. That is one reason for my statement that fear, poor housing, and poor husbandry systems inflict most animal suffering during their lifetimes. Even best practice still compromises animal welfare considerably.
Of course there is no easy answer to this conundrum, as we have to confine animals to carry out research on them. But I believe we can do more to improve the quality of their shortened lives.
Furthermore, the evidence for what is acceptable or at least unacceptable for the animals is often not there. Only when animals die prematurely is there concern. In the meantime, how does one decide what to do, what to provide? Who gets the benefit of the doubt when the science can provide no answers—is it the human or the animal?
In science, the traditional surgical and physiological procedures that were once carried out are gradually being replaced by investigations using transgenic and genetically modified animals and this makes the issues of meeting their mental needs even more of an imperative. For instance, in the UK in 2007, genetically modified and mutant animals and their breeding accounted for nearly 50% of all animal experiments. Only 39% underwent “traditional” procedures of such severity that they required an anesthetic, and the number used for human clinical research was less than 1%. However, there will be more animals undergoing surgical interventions for purposes other than clinical research and all animals in laboratories will suffer the chronic distress of poor living conditions.
While pain is a well-defined and relatively well-understood area of animal physiology and pathology, it is treatable, and so it is often not necessary to keep animals in pain or to cause pain to animals unless there is an overriding scientific reason—for example, research on pain. This is yet another reason why poor mental health (i.e., distress) is so important: it is often unavoidable. I’m not saying that pain is unimportant—it is (Matt Leach will address pain in his talk); but distress is a neglected source of animal suffering.
The annual reports on animal suffering show some interesting differences between countries and the way they handle distress. Most do not separate distress but combine it with pain. Others do not separate intensity and duration of either pain or distress in any meaningful way. Most countries record only predicted adverse effects, while others estimate the adverse effects that actually occurred (i.e., a retrospective recording). The important point is that all countries recognize the term distress as well as pain. So how do we go about measuring pain and distress?