Please note: there may be some adjustments to the teaching arrangements published in the course catalogue for 2020-21. Given current circumstances related to the Covid-19 pandemic it is anticipated that some usual arrangements for teaching on campus will be modified to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students and staff on campus; further adjustments may also be necessary, or beneficial, during the course of the academic year as national requirements relating to management of the pandemic are revised.

Biology of Suffering BIOL5117

  • Academic Session: 2020-21
  • School: Biodiversity Animal Health Comp Med
  • Credits: 10
  • Level: Level 5 (SCQF level 11)
  • Typically Offered: Semester 2
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes
  • Available to Erasmus Students: No

Short Description

This course will give the student an advanced understanding on animal consciousness, the biology of pain and suffering, welfare and cognitive functions and the physiology of stress.


12 hours of lectures and two hours of tutorials

Requirements of Entry


Excluded Courses





Students will prepare an essay (2000 words; 100% of the course grade) where they will critically discuss current scientifc evidence for different types of animal suffering.

Course Aims

The aim of the course is to provide students with an advanced understanding of issues on consciousness, sentience and suffering in animals and how this relates to ethical and legal considerations.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students, with reference to the evidence base, will be able to: 

■ Discuss critically the challenges faced by welfare research that aims to assess animal subjective states, and the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches

■ Discuss critically the physiological basis of the stress response, the latest methodological developments on how to measure stress, and how these can inform welfare research

■ Demonstrate detailed knowledge and critical understanding of the physiological basis of pain, discuss its evolution in the animal kingdom, and be informed by the developments at the forefront of pain research

■ Apply knowledge and synthetic understanding of pain and stress to critically reflect on ethical issues and legislation

■ Discuss critically the principles and concepts of disturbance and a critical awareness of its impacts on captive and wild animals

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.