The temperature of a cow’s nose can reveal its inner emotions, a study has shown.

Global campaigning organisation World Animal Protection published the first study exploring whether nasal temperatures can be used as a measure of positive emotions in cows.

Published in Physiology and Behaviour journal, scientists working at the charity highlighted how findings from their study could provide a way of assessing positive emotions in cows.

Previous literature has shown a strong connection between peripheral temperatures (skin, nose and ears) and high arousal negative experiences.

Stress, fear and frustration have all been found to cause a drop in peripheral temperatures in mammals. However, little is known about whether the experience of positive emotions affects peripheral temperatures.

In the study of 13 cows, World Animal Protection researchers sought to identify whether the nasal temperature of cows could be reliably used as a measure of positive emotional state in cows.

The study involved putting the cows into a calm and relaxed state by stroking them, in a similar manner to allogrooming (the grooming of another individual).

The scientists did this more than 350 times, remotely recording the cow’s nasal temperatures before, during and after they were being stroked.   

Analysis revealed a drop in nasal temperature occurred when the cows were stroked, and experiencing the positive, relaxed emotional experience. 

Sentience manager at World Animal Protection Helen Proctor said: “Understanding how animals express positive emotions is an important area of focus for animal welfare science, yet it is widely neglected. 

“The necessity is not to prove animals have a range of emotions, but to measure it. In doing this it is key to show not just that pain and suffering is removed, but to draw attention to the importance of good welfare and how to understand the positive emotions an animal will display.”

World Animal Protection concluded the drop in nasal temperature indicated the change in the cow’s emotions from neutral to positive, and these results offer insight into the use of peripheral temperatures as a measure of animal emotions.

The study was carried out at Bolton’s Park Farm, which is part of the Royal Veterinary College, Potters Bar. It is hoped the nasal temperature study is also of use in the dairy industry in its programmes and understanding of cows.

World Animal Protection UK has a long-running campaign to address the trend towards intensive dairy farming and is raising awareness of the benefits and needs for pasture-based farming, both for the animals and for the industry.

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