Animal Welfare 2

Research title:

Advances in the validation of non-invasive welfare indicators in equines: use of multidisciplinary methods and adaptation to different scenarios

Tutor: Michela Minero


Contact details

Università degli Studi di Milano

Dipartimento di Medicina Veterinaria (DiMeVet)

Via G. Celoria, 10

20133 Milano


Phone +39 02 503 18037

Fax +39 02 503 18030

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


State of the art 

In veterinary medicine, as well as in the diverse fields related to the equine management, a truthful assessment of welfare is a prerequisite for predicting the impact of any actions intended to improve the quality of life of equines. This can be achieved when welfare information, gathered by different measures is valid and comparable. The welfare assessment protocol for horses developed under the Animal Welfare Indicators project (Dalla Costa et al., 2016), includes animal-based indicators evaluated in terms of their validity, reliability and feasibility. The authors of the protocol state that there are still a number of important challenges to be addressed in order to fully validate some of the most promising non-invasive welfare indicators in equines. Future research is needed to improve our understanding of concurrent validity of some indicators, i.e. answering the question on how they relate with other physiological measures, including those derived from the most recent advances in the fields of genomics and neuro-imaging. It is also important to define the sensitivity of the welfare indicators as to clarify to what extent a single indicator can detect the animals’ responses to environmental changes which may be relevant for their welfare status. In equine practice, a relevant model to investigate the sensitivity and robustness (valid under different assessment scenarios) of welfare indicators, is transport, a frequent and critical management aspect in the life of an equine.




Aims of the project

The present project encompasses a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of indicators of equine welfare. Grounded on previous scientific work developed by the research team, the main objective of this research proposal is to further validate non-invasive behavioural indicators of horse and donkey welfare. Among the study models adopted, transport will be considered with special emphasis. The PhD student will be closely working with other researchers and post-graduate students of the Animal Welfare and Sustainable Production Lab of the Department of Veterinary Medicine, in an international environment and in collaboration with other research groups, as those working in the fields of genomics, genetics and bio-engineering.


Recent publications of the tutor in the field

1. Dalla Costa, E., Dai, F., Lebelt, D., Scholz, P., Barbieri, S., Canali, E., Minero, M., 2017. - Initial outcomes of a harmonized approach to collect welfare data in sport and leisure horses. Animal, 11, 2, 254-260.

2. Dalla Costa, E., Dai, F., Lebelt, D., Scholz, P., Barbieri, S., Canali, E., Zanella, A., Minero, M., 2016b. Welfare assessment of horses: the AWIN approach. Animal Welfare 25, 481-488.

3. Dalla Costa, E., Minero, M., Lebelt, D., Stucke, D., Canali, E., Leach, M.C., 2014a. Development of the Horse Grimace Scale (HGS) as a Pain Assessment Tool in Horses Undergoing Routine Castration. Plos One 9.

4. Dalla Costa, E., Stucke, D., Dai, F., Minero, M., Leach, M.C., Lebelt, D., 2016. - Using the horse grimace scale (HGS) to assess pain associated with acute laminitis in horses (Equus caballus). Animals, 6, 8.

5. Minero, M., Dalla Costa, E., Dai, F., Murray, L.A.M., Canali, E., Wemelsfelder, F., 2016. Use of Qualitative Behaviour Assessment as an indicator of welfare in donkeys. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 174, 147-153.