It is hard enough for us, as humans, to understand how others are feeling. But imagine how difficult it is for us to know how animals are experiencing the world around them from an emotional standpoint. Other species perceive the world very differently than we do and cannot communicate with us using words.
Finding new ways to assess the emotional lives of animals is critical to advancing our understanding of animal welfare. It is also incredibly important to develop methods that are non-invasive, thereby not affecting the animals during the process. Infrared thermography is a potential way for us to do this.
Infrared thermography (IRT) is technology that uses a camera to remotely measure the temperature of an object. The images, called thermograms, show different colors to represent various temperatures, and this allows measurement to be taken without having to touch the object. It has been used in a variety of ways including in buildings and in diagnostic medicine in both humans and animals. Some scientists have also been using it to help assess aspects of animal welfare.
Animal welfare encompasses the physical, psychological and emotional experience of an animal. It is important to use measures that look at all of those components to understand how an individual animal is faring. The body’s response to certain things, such as stress and positive experiences, can have an impact on temperature. This means that in some cases, changes in the temperature of body parts, such as the eyes, can tell us how an animal is responding to an event.
– Dr. Stephanie Allard is the director of animal welfare for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare.