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, not least, on 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: (a) children’s perceptions of welfare needs, focusing on four common pet animals; (b) influences on the development of knowledge; (c) beliefs about whether or not (all) animals are sentient, and (d) their confidence in identifying when their own pets are in need. Fourteen focus groups were carried out with 53 children aged 7 to 13 years. Findings highlighted an affirmative response that animals have feelings (dogs especially), albeit with doubts about this applying universally. There was wide variation in children’s knowledge of welfare needs, even among owners of the animal in question. Conversely, some children lacked confidence in spite of the extensive knowledge they had developed through direct experience. An important finding was a perceived difficulty in identifying the needs of particular species or specific types of need in their own pets. Fitting well with a recent emphasis on “positive welfare,” children felt that many animals need demonstrative love and attention, especially cats and dogs. While there is clearly scope for educating children about common needs and cues that indicate animals’ welfare state, other areas pose a greater challenge. Emotional connection seems important in the development of extensive knowledge and concern for welfare. Accordingly, animals that do not possess the kind of behavioral repertoire that is easy to interpret or allows for a perceived sense of reciprocity are possibly at risk of negative welfare experiences.
- Animal welfare