Hazel SJ, Signal TD, Taylor N. Can teaching veterinary and animal-science students about animal welfare affect their attitude toward animals and human-related empathy? J Vet Med Educ. 2011 Spring;38(1):74-83

PMID: 21805938


Attitudes toward animals are important in influencing how animals are treated. Few studies have investigated attitudes toward animals in veterinary or animal-science students, and no studies have compared attitudes to animals before and after a course teaching animal welfare and ethics. In this study, students enrolled in veterinary (first-year) or animal-science (first- and third-year) programs completed a questionnaire on attitudes toward different categories of animals before and after the course. Higher attitude scores suggest a person more concerned about how an animal is treated. Normally distributed data were compared using parametric statistics, and non-normally distributed data were compared using non-parametric tests, with significance p < .05. Attitudes toward pets (45.5-47.6) were higher than those toward pests (34.2-38.4) or profit animals (30.3-32.1). Attitude scores increased from before to after the course in the veterinary cohort on the Pest (36.9 vs. 38.4, respectively, n = 27, p < .05) and Profit (30.3 vs. 32.1, respectively, n = 28, p < .05) subscales, but not in the animal-science cohorts. Attitude scores in all categories were higher for women than for men. Currently having an animal was associated with higher pet scores (46.8 vs. 43.8, ns = 120 and 13, respectively, p < .05), and having an animal as a child was associated with higher profit scores (31.0 vs. 26.6, ns = 129 and 8, respectively, p < .05). Students electing to work with livestock had lower scores on the Pest and Profit subscales, and students wanting to work with wildlife had significantly higher scores on the Pest and Profit subscales. This study demonstrates attitudinal changes after an animal-welfare course, with significant increases in veterinary but not animal-science students.