Pigs on a pile in the mud

How to measure wellbeing in animal behavior research

Friday, 29 July, 2011

The practice of animal husbandry is facing major issues. The up scaling of farms raises questions regarding health and wellbeing, danger of outbreaks, and environmental pollution. Innovative solutions are needed. The increasing pressure from legislation and society has created the need for a long term solution.

SenseWell is a consortium that is working to find a solution. Using the rat as a general model for farm and laboratory animals, this consortium aims to design a system that automatically detects symptoms of stress and disease and is able to react appropriately. It is a multidisciplinary project, with experts on animal behavior, brain and cognition, veterinary sciences, computer sciences, microelectronics, and statistics working together. 

Wellbeing is a keyword here. But the definition of wellbeing is not clear-cut as there are no simple readout parameters for what constitutes wellbeing. SenseWell recognizes the necessity for integration of parameters on behavior, physiology, and acoustics (vocalizations) for an automated system to be able to recognize signs of reduced wellbeing.

For the SenseWell project, animals will be housed in a home cage environment and implanted with a telemetry device. The cage is equipped with a video camera, ultrasonic microphone, telemetry receiver, and several stimuli devices.  The main scientific questions of the study include: Which stimulus devices must be included to create an environment that is challenging enough? Which parameters must be monitored to detect health and welfare problems? What is the optimal computer architecture? How can we pinpoint the individual suffering from reduced health or wellbeing in a group of animals?

You can read more about this project in the Noldus press release.