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Animals Can Recover from Neglect, Goat Study Shows

Update Date: Apr 23, 2013 10:44 AM EDT

Animals can recover from neglect, a new study reveals.

British scientists at Queen Mary, University of London found that animal sanctuaries play an important role in rehabilitating goats and other animals that have suffered from neglect.

Researchers said the latest research is the first scientific study of rescued animals. 

For the study, researchers examined the moods in 18 goats, nine of which had suffered neglect such as inappropriate diet, and lack of space or shelter before arriving at a sanctuary.

To understand the link between poor welfare and the animal's mental health, researchers created a spatial awareness test, which involved giving the animals an opportunity to look for food, to compare the behavior of the mistreated goats with that of the normal goats.

"Mood can have a huge influence on how the brain processes information. In humans, for example, it's well known that people in positive moods have an optimistic outlook on life, which means they are more resilient to stress. In the same way, measures of optimism and pessimism can provide indicators for an understanding of animal welfare," researcher Dr. Elodie Briefer said in a news release.

Researchers wanted to see whether some goats were faster to explore specific areas to find food.  Researcher predicted that previously neglected goats would be more "pessimistic" and slower than the well-treated goats to explore ambiguous locations for food, where the reward of food was not guaranteed.

To their surprise, researchers found that female goats that had been mistreated in the past were more optimistic than the other well-treated female goats.

"In this case, we found that female goats that had been previously neglected were the most optimistic of all the tested animals. They were more optimistic than well-treated females, but also the poorly treated males," Briefer explained.

"This suggests that females may be better at recovering from neglect when released from stress, and might have implications for animal sanctuaries in how they tailor the care they provide for the different sexes."

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