Is your animal happy?

Do pigs, chickens, dogs and cats have good lives in Norway? Most animals do lead good lives in this country. But some do not.

12. feb 2007 06:00

hund, barn med dyr, kjæledyr. FOTO: GV-PRESS, NYSGJERRIGPER 1-07Everyone who owns an animal bears a huge responsibility for helping to give the animal a good life. PHOTO: GV-PRESS Bjarne Olai Braastad is a professor of ethology, which is the science of animal behaviour. He is doing research to determine whether animals lead good lives. Such research is often difficult.

"It isn't as easy as you might think to tell whether an animal has a good life. For example, we don't know much about the welfare of dogs and cats because very little research has been done on these two species.

"What we do know for certain, is that some people are good with their animals, while others are not. For instance, many people fail to train their dogs correctly, leaving the animals nervous and agitated. Others take kittens away from their mothers far too early."

Your responsibility

Braastad works at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences at Ås. He believes that everyone who owns an animal bears a huge responsibility. This is true whether you are a farmer or a pet-owner. If you have responsibility for an animal, you should read books and brochures, and talk to others to try to learn everything you can about how to give your animal a good life.

People used to think that cows had a good life if they gave a lot of milk, and that hens were happy if they laid many eggs. Scientists now know that it is not always true. We need to look at other aspects of the animals' lives as well. Scientists know, for example, that a cow with enlarged pupils is not content. They also know that some animals in a barn may do well, while others in the same barn are not happy because they are bullied.

New rules

Changes will be made in many Norwegian barns over the next 20 years. This is because new rules will require changes. Animals will have to be allowed to wander around the barn freely. This means that when new barns are built, they will be more square in shape. Today, barns are almost always oblong. There is already a regulation requiring that cows be allowed to spend at least eight weeks outdoors every summer.

That is good, according to the animal researcher. However, allowing animals to spend more time together can also lead to more bullying. That can be prevented by changing the way a barn is organised. For example, we can ensure there is drinking water in several places so that the animals that are bullied don't have to walk past the animals that bother them.

Animals are just like people in that respect. Sometimes they are nice to each other and sometimes not.

Translated by Linda Sivesind

*Published in 'Nysgjerrigper' no. 1/07*