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Animal welfare

What is animal welfare and whose welfare is considered?

Animals are recognized as sentient beings in New Zealand law. This means they have sufficiently complex nervous systems to support flexible and adaptive behaviour and, importantly, a range of different experiences and feelings that they can interpret as good/positive or bad/negative. In New Zealand, animals considered to be sentient are mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, octopus, squid, crabs, lobsters and crayfish (see Information about animal research in NZ for more information).


The welfare of an animal depends on its mental state – the negative or positive experiences it is having at a particular point in time. Negative experiences might include pain, discomfort, breathlessness, nausea, fear, anxiety, hunger, thirst and even loneliness, frustration or boredom, depending on the kind of animal. Good experiences might include feelings of pleasure, comfort, safety and companionship, again depending on the kind of animal. The animal’s mental state is influenced by its perception of both its physical health and its environment.


How can we understand an animal’s welfare state to make improvements?

Often in research, it is necessary to perform procedures that may cause animals to experience negative states like fear, pain, nausea, or breathlessness. In addition to compromise during procedures, animals may also experience compromise in their home environment, during day-to-day husbandry and handling, preparation for, as well as recovery from, the procedure. An animal may be more likely to experience welfare compromise because of its age, physical state, particular type or breeding.


When using animals in research, testing, and teaching, we have a responsibility to promote good welfare, meaning minimizing welfare compromise due to negative experiences and enhancing welfare by providing opportunities for positive experiences. The people responsible must consider the ways that their use of, or interaction with, the animals may impact their welfare. Another way to think about this is to ask “What mental states will the animal experience in this situation, in this physical condition or due to this procedure?”.


We can understand the degree to which welfare is compromised by evaluating the quality, likelihood, severity/intensity and duration of any and all negative experiences; we do this using observable or measurable indicators of mental states, including behavioural, physiological and neurophysiological measurements. Likewise, we can understand the degree of welfare enhancement, primarily by evaluating animal’s behavioural responses to opportunities that arise or we provide.


One model we can use to organize investigations of welfare and the evidence for an animal’s mental experiences and its overall welfare state is the Five Domains Model. This is an internationally recognised welfare assessment framework developed in New Zealand. It reflects modern understanding of animal welfare by breaking down the factors that influence welfare into four categories (Domain 1 Food and water; Domain 2 Physical environment; Domain 3 Health and physical status; Domain 4 Behavioural interactions) and includes the associated mental experiences in a fifth category (Domain 5 Mental states). With care, the Model can be used for any species in any context. It allows the user to apply their own knowledge of the animal species to identify potential sources of welfare compromise and opportunities for welfare enhancement.


How can we improve the welfare of animals used in RTT? The Three Rs

The Three Rs provide guidance on ways to minimize welfare compromise for animals used in RTT by avoiding animal use altogether (Replacement), reducing the number of animals that might experience welfare compromise (Reduction) or reducing the likelihood, severity and/or duration of negative mental experiences arising due to the ways animals are used and managed (Refinement). Providing opportunities for positive experiences, while continuing to minimise negatives, is another way to refine animal use. For more information about the Three Rs see…


Minimizing welfare compromise (Refinement) depends on what the problem is for the animal. Importantly, animals must be conscious to be having any mental experiences, including pain, so using general anaesthesia to make an animal unconscious is one way to reduce welfare compromise during a procedure. Pain can also be alleviated or reduced by using drugs that block or reduce pain signals (local anaesthetics or analgesics).


However, pain-relieving drugs won’t reduce hunger, thirst, breathlessness, nausea, fear or loneliness. So, the remedy must be appropriate for the problem, and the effectiveness of the intervention should be evaluated using methods like those described above. For example, fear due to human-animal interactions can be reduced by avoiding or refining handling procedures, while anxiety might be relieved by manipulating animal housing or social groupings. Likewise, such changes in animal housing and management can provide animals opportunities for positive experiences. Promoting these feelings wherever possible can enhance the welfare of animals, as well as making them easier to handle and work with.

Resources for minimizing welfare compromise:


Resources for enhancing welfare:

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