The welfare of animals managed by man
is a societal concern that can polarise opinion.

Animal welfare research spans from fundamental scientific studies of animal behaviour and biology through to studies that attempt to implement research findings and improve welfare in farms, labs and zoos.

Decisions by Government and other stakeholders need to be based on information about animal welfare that is as objective and unbiased as possible. Systematic and scientific animal welfare research provides this information, and the UK is a world leader in this research.


For many people, a concern about animal welfare is a concern that animals are able to suffer, for example by experiencing pain, anxiety, fear and hunger. This raises some very challenging questions, including some of the most taxing in modern biology, that are addressed in fundamental animal welfare research: How can we assess whether other species have conscious experiences such as the ability to feel pain or other emotions? Can we develop objective scientific ways of measuring these states, at least indirectly? And, as well as detecting negative states, can we measure positive ones too? In attempting to tackle these questions, animal welfare research dovetails with disciplines such as behavioural biology, physiology, neuroscience, cognitive science, and philosophy.

Another set of fundamental questions asks what influences an individual’s ability to cope with challenges? How do an individual’s genetic makeup and experience of its environment, for example during early life, combine to affect its coping ability and resilience? Here, techniques used in genetics, epigenetics, developmental psychology, and behavioural and stress biology can contribute to animal welfare studies.

Concerns about animal welfare are wide-ranging and varied. Examples include lameness in dairy cows and sheep, bone fractures and leg problems in chickens, damaging social behaviour such as feather-pecking in chickens and tail-biting in pigs, transport stress, stereotypic behaviour in laboratory and zoo animals, behaviour problems in companion animals, and confined housing and high stocking densities in a range of species.

Many animal welfare research studies focus on specific problems of this kind and attempt to understand their causes, the impact that they have on animal welfare, and the effectiveness and feasibility of possible solutions. To achieve these goals, welfare researchers may apply methods in veterinary science, animal science, behavioural biology, and epidemiology.

The development of methods for implementing the findings of animal welfare research in the real world is a rapidly growing area of interest. Researchers use approaches from psychology, economics and other social sciences to understand how best to implement change, and what the economic costs and benefits of such change may be for stakeholders.