Animal Welfare Ethics and Law and Communication skills

Responsibilities of veterinary professionals in small-scale farms, extensive production systems and industrialized agriculture: animal welfare, veterinary ethics and law and communication skills in veterinary practice



Prof. Herwig Grimm (Vienna)
Prof. Vlatko Ilieski (Skopje)
Prof. Krešimir Severin (Zagreb)
Dr. Svenja Springer (Vienna)
Dr. Christian Dürnberger (Vienna)

The program of this summer school aims to clarify veterinarians’ roles and responsibilities in the context of the implementation of animal welfare ethics and welfare legislation. Our aim is to respond to identified needs of teaching in animal welfare as a veterinary professional duty where shared responsibility in an interdisciplinary field is required. Therefore, in the teaching program inputs from law animal welfare scientists, philosophers, and sociologist is introduced. By means of an interdisciplinary and integrative approach to subjects, the program is designed to ideally and practice-oriented teach how animals’ interests can be promoted alongside other important societal goals, such as food safety and environmental protection. The program is delivered by researchers and teachers from the VetNEST community with a series of guest lecturers. In particular, the summer school addresses challenges that can occur due to various roles veterinarians have to consider in their future work life such as “vet as a service provider” and the “vet speaking up for animal welfare”.

  1. In the program, the evaluation of the quality of life is introduced through the process of ethical decision-making. It is an essential part of our program. The Good Life for Animals framework is presented as an integral part of clinical veterinary practice in order to explain the tools for assessing the quality of life and through practical examples show how it should be implemented in veterinary work. Animal welfare assessment tools are introduced using updated concepts and scientific approaches. Also, part of our program is promoting positive states of animal welfare (e.g. comfort and pleasure), rather than simply avoiding negative states (e.g. pain, fear, and frustration).

  2. In our program, veterinary ethics training takes a structured approach that identifies and considers the interests of various stakeholders (i.e. those whose interests would be affected by the decisions made by the veterinarian). In this program. guidance and support for the ethical decision-making process are incorporated to improve the quality and consistency of veterinary decisions and to help improve veterinary welfare by reducing the stress associated with ethical dilemmas while building consensus on how to identify and appropriately weigh the interests of stakeholders.

  3. These processes in veterinary practices related to the use and treatment of animals are regulated by legislation. We introduce a working understanding of animal welfare legislation into our programme. Guidance on reporting suspected animal welfare violations, including non-accidental injury and the link between animal abuse and human abuse, is part of our training program.

  4. When it comes to complex decision-making processes in a tense field, as described in the first three parts of the program, communication skills are of particular importance. The veterinary profession is more and more described and understood as a communicative activity: the veterinarian has a duty not only with the animals, but especially with the owners of the animals and their specific interests and with a society that knows little about animal husbandry, but at the same time has increased expectations – especially in relation to animal welfare.


The following topics will be dealt with under the perspective of animal welfare, veterinary ethics, law and communication:

A) Animal Welfare

The first day of the course will consist of two major topics: Explanation of Animal Welfare Concepts and Biological functioning of the organism.

In introductory part of explanation of animal welfare concepts focus will be given why the study of animal welfare is important, and what the terms used in the scientific discipline mean. To appraise different concepts as well as analytical frameworks of animal welfare and how they relate to practice and to the context in which they are set. To formulate an informed, science-based, view on animal welfare matters and communicate effectively with those involved in keeping animals

Analytical frameworks will be given e.g. Five Freedoms, Three Rs; Concept of Quality of a Life Concept of five domain.

Second part in the first day will focus on stress and physiology of animal welfare. Starting with homeostasis and inputs/outputs of the physiological system. Later, the definition of stress and its physiology will follow. Continuing with the two physiological stress pathways, explaining the whole process from the external stimuli to the final output, results of the stress pathway. Additionally, definition and recognition of suffering in animals will be presented. At the end, focus will be given to the physiological responses related to stress and animal welfare, together with practical examples of measuring theses responses for confirming the state of the animals.

In second day of lecture will be work on case examples. Three different practical cases will be considered. Will be description how to measure and assess welfare in practical scenarios. How to apply principles objectively, evaluate the welfare status of animals and to recognize good and poor welfare. Also, health will be explained as a key aspect of welfare so the links between welfare and disease will be discussed. Risk assessment practices will be introduced with identification on risk factors for poor welfare with focuses on hazards. Consideration will include natural behavior wherever it will improve welfare as some natural factors may lead to poor welfare. Description of practical methods of achieving higher welfare standards and maintaining them will be introduced.

Short presentations of management practices according to the current welfare standards and related to the presented practical cases. This will put the basis for creative approach by the students in problem-solving scenarios while respecting the present welfare standards.

In the next session the main focus will be given to Animal behavior and behavioural measures as part of animal welfare, describing animal behavior and it mechanisms. Different types of behavior at individual and social level will be presents. Later, the session will continue with the abnormal behaviors like stereotypes, self-directed or behaviors address to another animal, anxiety and fear and other emotional states. Brief introduction of physiology of emotions and aggressions. This session will end with part of how to use behavior as an assessment tool for measuring animal welfare, current practical examples and future possibilities.

Day three lectures will cover information how to assess welfare, for farmers, veterinary inspectors or other animal users. Will be explanation which assessment, checklists and audits can be used to monitor welfare, as well as explanation of differences between resource and management-based indicators with animal-based indicators. Explanation of Physiological and Behavioral Measures as integral part of animal-based indicators. Introduction of Animal based measures as a tools for AW assessment and matrix how to choose the optimal combination of animal-based measures. Explanation of link between Welfare assessment tools and five freedom with focuses on comparison of welfare inputs and outputs in different situations.

Presentation of the Animal Welfare protocol for Animal Welfare assessment. Introduction with the Welfare Principles, Criteria and Measures. Methodology and techniques for applying the welfare assessment protocols. Scoring systems, score calculations, presentation and interpretation of the results.

During farm visit Livestock welfare assessment will be performed where students will be put into practice in real-world situations. The student activities will contain a variety of tasks to be able to perform whole assessment protocol

On-farm practical application of the animal welfare assessment protocol. All student will conduct the full assessment protocol on representing number of animals.

Collectively, students will work on the materials collected during farm visit. This will allow students to progress through assessment protocol scoring systems. These activities will begin with questions and answers which will help to assess whether the students can analise the information they have been taught. The questions and answers will be followed by in-class activities that usually include debate and discussion topics as well as individual or group presentations

Presenting, comparing and interpretation of the results from the on-farm animal welfare assessment from the previous day. Group discussion about the different findings between assessors – inter-observer reliability and repeatability. Presentation of the Animal Welfare Assessment findings to the broader public – communication and promotion for improved animal welfare.

At the end guidelines for good quality reports (essay) will be introduced as final goal of the students to collect ECTS points.

B) Veterinary Ethics

The introductory session of the ethics lecture will provide an overview of veterinarians’ professional responsibility against the backdrop of the changing human-relations. First of all, students will learn how to differentiate between the disciplines animal welfare, ethics and law, and how veterinary ethics can contribute to an understanding of morally challenging situations as well as dealing with uncertainties arising in veterinary practice. Secondly, students will be introduced three different approaches to systematic deal with moral resources and sources to answer the core question of ethics “What should I (as a vet) do?”

Just as clinical cases need a method for sorting data, so too ethical cases must have some methods to collect, sort, and order the facts raised by case (cf. Jonsen et al., 2015). In the second ethics session, students will be introduced the Responsibility Check as an important and helpful tool to identify and structure veterinarians’ responsibility in complex decision-making processes. Students will learn how to use this tool by discussing different case examples. Further, a focus will lie on the differentiation between several roles of veterinarians as well as the distinction between their professional, individual and societal responsibility.

Especially in decision-making processes in which different stakeholders are involved, conflicts of interest and value conflicts emerge. In the third ethics session, students will be introduced the Ethical Matrix as a supportive tool for the analysis of situations in which difficult decision have to made. Students will learn what the Ethical Matrix is, how it works, and what purpose this “ethical tool” serves.

In the final ethics lecture, students will have the chance to reflect on their experiences of the farm visit by applying their acquired knowledge of veterinary ethics and ethical tools. This session will provide time and space for in-depth group discussions on unanswered questions on the one hand, and on the other hand the possibility of an ethical reflection.

C) Law

In the first teaching unit, we will discuss the basic determinants of the European Union and national regulations in order to understand the animal welfare legislation framework. It is necessary to understand the differences between the EU regulations, such as the Directive, the Regulation and the provisions of national laws and bylaws, and by considering the basic principles of the obligations of veterinary officials, veterinarians, and animal owners or possessors. In addition, in a few examples, we will show how ethical dilemmas have influenced the development of current legislation and what the fundamental shortcomings are. Although almost all EU member states have adopted the guidelines provided by the Directive, in many cases the implementation of some of the goals is deficient.

On the second day, the general rules laid down by Directive 98/58/EC relating to the protection of farmed animals for the production of foodstuffs, wool, skin or fur, or for other farming purposes, will be presented with other specific requirements for particular categories of animals (laying hens, chickens kept for meat production, calves and pigs). The regulations on animal welfare during transport and slaughter will be subsequently explained. In addition, students will learn how effective the enforcement of the current legislation is, and future objectives and strategies for animal welfare in the EU. At the end of the day, animal welfare labeling schemes with the aim of raising animal welfare standards will be presented.

Any failure to provide animals with the basic physical or mental necessities of life, or failure to seek veterinary attention for injury and naturally occurring illness, in some degree, will result in neglect of their well-being. Students will be presented with several cases of neglect of domestic animals to help them better understand their future responsibilities as veterinarians who are required to prevent the occurrence of such adverse conditions. The second part of the lecture will include other specific types of intentional neglect that may be linked with abuse.

D) Communication

Learning outcome: The students are informed about the general aim and the program of the “Communication-Seminar”. On the basis of empirical surveys among veterinarians, the key role of communication skills of veterinarians will be clarified.

Learning outcome: After an input about the different roles of veterinarians communicating with animal owners (e.g. Which conflicts arise in dealing with farmers?), the students will work on case studies in small groups: How do I communicate with farmers in specific situations? Which values play a role?

Learning outcome: During the farm visit, the students should answer or discuss a given questionnaire, focusing on following key questions: What expectations does the current society have towards livestock farming? Does the visited farm fulfill this expectations?

Learning outcome: Veterinarians communicate not only with farmers, but also with a public, that knows little about livestock husbandry, but at the same time has increasing expectations – especially with regard to animal welfare. On basis of the questionnaire the students worked with during the farm visit, the workshop will discuss: What expectations does the current society have towards livestock farming? Why is communication about agriculture so difficult? Further, this session will also discuss typical “faulty” arguments in the social debate about livestock farming and veterinary medicine.