Taking animal welfare science into society: how kind are we to animals?

Format of work:

Conference Presentation

Event presented at / Journal Name:

Seventh Annual Meeting of AWRN

Speaker / Contact Author's Name:

David Bowles, RSPCA

Speaker / Contact Author's E-mail Address:


  • Research aim:

    To understand how attitudes to animals are changing, the impact of external events such as the cost of living crisis and how these can be enveloped into Government policy.

  • Background:

    Britain is seen as a nation of animal lovers but understanding what this actually means and differences in attitudes to different animals is not known. The RSPCA wished to assess, as it enters its third century as an animal welfare organisation, how these issues change over time and the impact of external events such as the cost of living crisis and the Covid lockdowns. Governments have expressed a desire to improve animal welfare standards. Both the English and Welsh Governments have action plans on animal welfare. Understanding public attitudes can assist Governments when prioritising new laws.

  • Approach:

    Polling was undertake of 4,000 people on a representative basis by a national polling company in March 2022. Subsequent polls will be undertake to assess trends annually

  • Key finding:

    The public have a sliding scale of their understanding of sentience in animals from dogs (92% agree they are sentient) to chickens (73%), and lobsters (53%). This translates into public feeling of how there is a sliding scale on animals’ ability to experience fear, joy and happiness. This may translate into how people treat these animals. The cost of living is already impacting on pubic attitudes: 28% are worried about the cost of pet food and this is impacting on where people are getting pet advice - whilst 64% would go to a vet 44% would use the internet as it is free and a number of the public would self-administer treatment to save money. There is a sliding scale of what animals should be prioritised for legislation from 45% on animals in laboratories to 33% on farming Although under 5% of the public have witnessed animal cruelty first hand, over half the public reported having seen it on social media (46% on Facebook, 20% on Twitter and 11% on Tiktok)

  • Industry or policy relevance:

    Cost of living is impacting on public behaviour and rescue organisations are anticipating a rise in abandonment of animals, in particular dogs and rabbits; there is a need for assistance to the public to keep animals in people’s homes and this should be delivered via food bank assistance and veterinary vouchers . Governments should prioritise legislation on animals in science as this is seen as not keeping up with societal demands (the over-arching law is 12 years old)

  • Route for practical application:

    The Government should prioritise in the Online Harms Bill interventions to reduce images of animal cruelty as it does not contain such language at present. Governments should prioritise measures to include animal welfare into the national curricula

  • Confidence in findings and next steps towards realising impact:

    The polling is undertaken in line with national polling standards so is robust and meets legislative standards Using these results via the media, Government and in internal RSPCA policy to counteract the impacts of the cost of living on our work and so reduce budget demands whilst increasing animal welfare standards and assistance



Links to Open Access Publications or DOI:


Bowles, D. 2023. Taking animal welfare science into society:how kind are we to animals?. Seventh Annual Meeting of AWRN, Great North Museum, Newcastle. 18-19th January 2023.