Watters, J. V., Krebs, B. L., Eschmann, C. L. 2021. Assessing animal welfare with behavior: Onward with caution. Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens 2(1), 75–87.

An emphasis on ensuring animal welfare is growing in zoo and aquarium associations around the globe. This has led to a focus on measures of welfare outcomes for individual animals. Observations and interpretations of behavior are the most widely used outcome-based measures of animal welfare. They commonly serve as a diagnostic tool from which practitioners make animal welfare decisions and suggest treatments, yet errors in data collection and interpretation can lead to the potential for misdiagnosis. We describe the perils of incorrect welfare diagnoses and common mistakes in applying behavior-based tools. The missteps that can be made in behavioral assessment include mismatches between definitions of animal welfare and collected data, lack of alternative explanations, faulty logic, behavior interpreted out of context, murky assumptions, lack of behavior definitions, and poor justification for assigning a welfare value to a specific behavior. Misdiagnosing the welfare state of an animal has negative consequences. These include continued poor welfare states, inappropriate use of resources, lack of understanding of welfare mechanisms and the perpetuation of the previously mentioned faulty logic throughout the wider scientific community. We provide recommendations for assessing behavior-based welfare tools, and guidance for those developing tools and interpreting data.

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