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Animal welfare is a complex and multi-layered concept with scientific, ethical, economic, cultural, social, religious and political dimensions and attracts a growing interest in civil society. Animal welfare therefore defines the quality of animal life as perceived by the animal.

The quality of animal life includes different elements of life – health, satisfaction and longevity. Science has taken up welfare as a subject of scientific research and, above all, it gives the answer to the question of what the animals perceive as quality life.

Because of ideological, religious, economic, and sociological approaches, the various elements of life are considered to have different degrees of importance, so three basic concepts and approaches to the exploration of welfare have been developed worldwide.

The first concept links animal welfare to their natural environment. Animals are supposed to live in an environment that allows them a natural behaviour. The main starting point for the assessment of welfare is the expression of species-specific behaviour. The second concept of welfare links it with the biological functioning of animals. Here the central issue is the animal's ability to adapt to different environments. Animal welfare is therefore expressed as the degree of successful adaptation to its immediate current environment. In this regard, the genotype of animals is also important. The main methodological approach within this concept is to assess welfare by applying criteria that indicate the difficulties of a specimen in controlling its environment. The set of welfare indicators includes, in particular, the assessment of animal health condition, of injuries, of growth, development and reproduction disorders, as well as quantitative measurements of physiological values and of behaviour. The third concept relates to the subjective feelings of animals. Caution is needed in this concept, since it can only be reasonably applied as appropriate for sentient animals, and it defines welfare as a subjective experience of animals, which is extremely difficult to measure objectively. A more widely used research approach includes studies of animal preference for different environments and the degree of animal motivation to acquire or avoid a particular element in the surrounding area.

In the early 1970s, research topics focused on measuring the negative aspects of life – suffering, pain, fear – while over the last fifty years, the focus of welfare research has also shifted towards positive aspects of life (assessments and measurements of happiness, playfulness, satisfaction).

Good life of animals

The assessment of animal welfare includes all these three aspects. Animals lead a good life if they are healthy and do well without disruptions that increase one aspect of biological functioning at the expense of others, if they can use their natural adaptations in a way they choose, and if they can experience pleasures free from negative states that are so severe or prolonged to make them suffer.

What is the relation between animal welfare and animal protection?

Science provides information. Ethics is the science that deals with the acceptability of treatment of and attitudes towards animals. The society's ethical attitude protects animals from unacceptable treatment and thus gives rise to the protection of animals. By taking into account scientific information and public opinion, regulations (as a social agreement) reflect the situation in society regarding animals. 

Responsible ownership is the cornerstone of animal protection and concern for welfare. 

Animal protection is a constitutional category (value) in Slovenia. It is guaranteed by legislation that complies with modern European and global animal protection standards. 

Animal welfare globally

Considering that animal health is a key element of animal welfare and that there are increasing requirements by Member States, in 2002 the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) extended its competence to include animal welfare, thus taking the lead in the development and dissemination of animal welfare standards at a global level.

This new mandate enabled the OIE to launch in 2004 a series of global conferences on animal welfare and animal well-being with the aim of assisting all Member States in putting the adopted animal welfare standards to work, considering the cultural and economic differences between various world regions and countries.

One of their benefits is the call to address animal welfare, human welfare and environmental protection, by all people together and unified, based on three assumptions:

  • improving animal welfare means improving human welfare and vice versa,
  • recognising the direct link between animal welfare and human welfare (increased welfare of humans, who have an impact on animal welfare, means also improved attitudes towards animals), improving cooperation between veterinary services, social services and others,
  • protecting the environment is essential in order to protect both animal and human welfare.

Above all, public constructive dialogue between all the parties involved is crucial; dialogue between politics, local communities, non-governmental spheres, industry, retail chains and, last but not least, animal carers and owners.