BIOETHICS SYMPOSIUM II: current factors influencing perceptions of animals and their welfare

M G S McKendree, C C Croney, N J Olynk Widmar
Journal of Animal Science 2014, 92 (5): 1821-31
To address escalating concerns about livestock animal care and welfare it is necessary to better understand the factors that may predispose people to develop such concerns. It has been hypothesized that experiences with, beliefs about, and emotional connections to animals may influence level of perceived obligation toward and therefore concern for animals. However, the extent to which people's classifications of animals and their status as pet owners may impact their views on food animal care and welfare practices remains unclear. An online survey of 798 U.S. households was therefore conducted in June 2012 to understand differences in consumer sentiment towards various animal species, classification of certain species (as pet, livestock or neither), and variations in food animal welfare concerns between dog and/or cat owners and those who do not own such species. Sixty-six percent of households in the survey owned at least 1 animal. Forty-eight percent owned dogs, 41% owned cats, 3% owned horses, and 10% owned other animals. As expected, dogs and cats were classified by most respondents (90%) as pets. Most respondents similarly categorized rabbits (58%) and horses (55%) as pets, although consensus was not found for horses with 27% classifying them as livestock animals and 18% as neither pets nor livestock. Over 80% of respondents classified beef cows, dairy cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys as livestock. The majority of survey respondents were opposed to eating cats and dogs followed closely by horses due to ethical and/or spiritual reasons. Dog and/or cat owners more often reported having a source for animal welfare information (68%) than those who did not own these species (49%). Additionally, dog and/or cat owners were more concerned about food animal welfare for both domestically raised food animals and those raised outside the United States (dog and/or cat owners mean level of concern was 3.88 for domestic animal welfare and 5.16 for those raised outside the United States compared with non-dog or -cat owners with means of 4.46 and 5.46, respectively). Although a causal relationship cannot be established, pet ownership and increased concern for food animal welfare appear to be correlated. These data suggest that increased interest in protecting food animals may stem from interactions with and emotional connections to pets, especially when combined with other factors such as having a source for animal welfare information, education level, age, and gender.

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