Exploring children’s perspectives on the welfare needs of pet animals

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Children are increasingly viewed as important recipients of educational interventions to improve animal welfare, yet research examining their perspectives is lacking, particularly within the UK. Helping children to care appropriately for animals depends on a range of factors, not least an ability to understand the needs of different species and correctly identify cues given by the animal that indicate its welfare state. This study began to explore children’s perceptions of welfare needs, focusing on four common pet animals; influences on the development of knowledge, beliefs about whether or not (all) animals are sentient, and their confidence in identifying when their own pets need something. Fourteen focus groups were carried out with 53 children aged 7 to 13 years using short vignettes to trigger discussion. Findings highlighted an affirmative response that animals have feelings, albeit with doubts about this applying universally. There was wide variation and confusion in children’s knowledge of welfare needs, even among owners of the animal in question, and they applied knowledge of their own needs when in doubt. Conversely, some children lacked confidence when their knowledge, developed through direct experience, was highly accurate. An important finding was a perceived difficulty in interpreting the needs of particular species or specific types of need in their own pets. However, children felt that many animals need demonstrative love and attention, especially cats and dogs, which fits well with a recent emphasis on ‘positive welfare’. There is clearly scope for educating children about common needs and behavioural cues, as well as emphasising similarities and differences with humans. Other areas pose a greater challenge for educators. Emotional connection (often stemming from an interactive or perceived reciprocal child-animal relationship) seems important for the development of extensive knowledge and a desire to understand more. Accordingly, animals that do not possess the kind of behavioural repertoire that allows for a perceived sense of reciprocity are possibly at risk of negative welfare experiences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-375
Number of pages18
Issue number3
Early online date17 Aug 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Aug 2016

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • animal welfare
  • children
  • knowledge
  • pets
  • sentience


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