Assessment of animal welfare is essential, not only to meet legislative requirements for review of severity but also to identify areas where the experience of an animal can be improved in terms of environment or by refinement of experimental techniques. Animals with poor quality of life, resulting from direct or contingent suffering, will not have normal physiology or behaviour and have been shown to be poor experimental models giving rise to flawed results. However, it is currently difficult to present meaningful data on animal welfare that can highlight areas where improvements have or potentially can be made. Public Health England (PHE), in collaboration with the University of Surrey School of Veterinary Medicine, has developed the Animal Welfare Assessment Grid (AWAG) a unique software tool for assessing and quantifying the lifetime experience of individual or groups of animals.
The AWAG system uses four parameters that impact on welfare: physical well-being, behavioural and psychological well-being, environmental conditions, and experimental and clinical events. Each parameter is subdivided into factors that contribute to the overall score for a particular parameter. For example, the physical parameter has factors comprising general condition, clinical assessment, activity levels, presence of an injury, and inappetence. At each assessment a score is entered for each factor and is added to give an overall welfare score between 1 and 10 where 1 = optimal score and 10 = worst possible case. This software allows welfare to be quantified and presented in a graphical way that is easily understood and can encourage communication about welfare and can highlight key events that affect well-being.
Through CRACK IT Solutions, PHE sought collaborators to help further develop the software and incorporate additional features to strengthen the transferability of AWAG to as wide a field of experimental disciplines as possible. With the support of CRACK IT Solutions funding, PHE is now working with the Veterinary Health Innovation Engine (vHIVE) to develop the tool by:
- Improving the ease of installation and setup of the software, making it more accessible for individual users and small companies.
- Updating the user interface to ensure maximum usability and an intuitive, user friendly layout.
- Streamlining the data entry to ensure it is quick and easy to upload data from large studies, by incorporating bulk import of data and enabling bulk entry for groups within studies.
- Exploiting the interoperability of the system to enable interaction with existing animal information management systems to avoid users duplicating the data input on other systems.
To ensure the tool aligns with the requirements of the animal welfare community and the diverse species used, this project will establish a user forum to enable two-way communication and a feedback channel with the user base. The user forum will comprise academic, pharmaceutical and other animal facilities that use different species ranging from rodents to non-human primates. The user forum will get access to the AWAG tool as it is developed to test the modifications meet end user needs. The PHE team is keen to hear from researchers, animal care staff, veterinarians, etc., who are interested in participating in the user forum – please contact the CRACK IT team if you would like to know more.