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Extending ideas about animal welfare assessment to include 'quality of life' and related concepts

Authors: Mellor DJ, Green TC
Publication: New Zealand Veterinary Journal, Volume 59, Issue 6, pp 263-271, Nov 2011
Publisher: Taylor and Francis

Animal type: Cat, Cattle, Companion animal, Deer, Dog, General, Horse, Livestock, Pig, Poultry, Production animal, Ruminant, Sheep, Wildlife
Subject Terms: Animal welfare, Ethics, Husbandry/husbandry procedures, Nutrition/metabolism, Pain, Veterinary profession
Article class: Review Article

Ideas within the animal welfare science arena have evolved continuously throughout the last 30 years, and will continue to do so. This paper outlines some of these developments. These included reformulation of the five freedoms concept into the five domains of potential welfare compromise. This accommodated weaknesses in the former by distinguishing between the physical/functional and the mental factors that contribute to an animal's welfare state. This development reflected a rising scientific acceptance that the mental experiences of animals were legitimate foci for study and highlighted that what the animal itself experiences represents its welfare status. Initially, most concepts of animal welfare emphasised predominantly negative subjective experiences, such as thirst, hunger and pain, and negative affective states or feelings including anxiety, fear and boredom, but today positive experiences or emotions such as satiety, vitality, reward, contentment, curiosity and playfulness are also considered to be important. During the same period, the focus shifted from evaluating the impacts of individual mental subjective experiences or emotions towards seeking a more comprehensive, multifactorial understanding. The five domains concept was specifically designed to achieve this. Subsequent notions about quality of life (QoL) had the same objective, and emphasised the importance of positive experiences. However, some approaches to QoL assessment relied heavily on empathetic speculation about what animals may experience subjectively and this raised concerns about inappropriate anthropomorphic projections. Such pitfalls may be minimised when informed personnel rigorously apply objectively based methodologies to QoL assessments limited to a short time frame. It is clear that both formal and somewhat less formal QoL assessments of this type are already used to guide decision-making about the ongoing care and therapeutic management of animals on a daily basis. However, application of the recently introduced concepts of ‘a life not worth living’, ‘a life worth avoiding’, ‘a life worth living’ and ‘a good life’ is problematical, because extending the assessment time scale to the whole of life is attended by a number of as yet unresolved difficulties. Accordingly, their value in the practical management of animals is limited so that, at present, reliance on the minimum standards and recommendations for best practice outlined in codes of practice or welfare will continue to be necessary and worthwhile. Nevertheless, these concepts have value in providing a contextual theme that strongly focuses attention on the promotion of a lifelong QoL with an overall balance that is positive.

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