Professor Ian Duncan said his aims are similar to those of Dr Dolittle, the fictional character who could talk to animals, but says his methods are strictly scientific.
"We are devising ways of 'talking' to animals and putting questions to them about their welfare and happiness," Duncan, based at Guelph University, Canada, told a leading daily.
"Each species has to be treated differently but the common factor is to devise tests where the animals are offered a choice. If they make the same choice repeatedly it shows what they want from us," he said.
Duncan said he is ready to set out his methods publicly after years of work across a host of livestock and pet species.
He said there is much more to the lives of livestock animals – even farmed fish like trout or salmon - than many people realize.
"It used to be thought that animals were 'dumb', driven by programmed instincts and responses, but now it is clear they live a much richer life than we ever realized and can remember the past and think about the future. We can use that knowledge to ask questions about their care and then improve it," he said.
Duncan will set out his ideas at a conference on the science of animal thinking and emotion in Washington.


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