Animal welfare is a multifaceted issue that can be approached from different viewpoints, depending on human interests, ethical assumptions, and culture. To properly assess, safeguard and promote animal welfare, concepts are needed to serve as guidelines in any context the animal is kept in. Several different welfare concepts have been developed during the last half decade. The Five Freedoms concept has provided the basis for developing animal welfare assessment to date, and the Five Domains concept has guided those responsible for safeguarding animal welfare, while the Quality of Life concept focuses on how the individual perceives its own welfare state. This study proposes a modified and extended version of an earlier animal welfare concept - the Dynamic Animal Welfare Concept (DAWCon). Based on the adaptability of the animal, and taking the importance of positive emotional states and the dynamic nature of animal welfare into account, an individual animal is likely in a positive welfare state when it is mentally and physically capable and possesses the ability and opportunity to react adequately to sporadic or lasting appetitive and adverse internal and external stimuli, events, and conditions. Adequate reactions are elements of an animal’s normal behavior. They allow the animal to cope with and adapt to the demands of the (prevailing) environmental circumstances, enabling it to reach a state that it perceives as positive, i.e., that evokes positive emotions. This paper describes the role of internal as well as external factors in influencing welfare, each of which exerts their effects in a sporadic or lasting manner. Behavior is highlighted as a crucial read-out parameter. As most animals under human care are selected for certain traits that may affect their behavioral repertoire it is crucial to have thorough ethograms, i.e., a catalogue of specific behaviors of the species/strain/breed under study. DAWCon highlights aspects that need to be addressed when assessing welfare and may stimulate future research questions.

 

Introduction

Animal welfare is a complex issue that can be approached from different viewpoints. People engaged with animal care and welfare, or with animal management in the broad sense, such as veterinarians and animal scientists, (industrial) farmers, consumers of animal-derived products, owners of companion animals, zoo keepers, and game keepers, may assume their own concepts of what animal welfare is and how to safeguard and improve animal welfare. (Nordquist et al., 2017). A broad range of concepts of ‘animal welfare’ have been proposed (Bousfield and Brown, 2010). The goal to safeguard and improve animal welfare calls for unifying concepts that are theoretically sound, objectifiable and quantifiable. Concepts approaching animal welfare from different perspectives may help to identify relevant aspects that might be overlooked if only one view were used, i.e. they may help to extend our manner of assessing and improving animal welfare (Fraser, 2008). We agree with Rushen (2003) that in defining ‘animal welfare’, scientists often address a limited range of aspects that inadequately address the multivariate and multidimensional nature of animal welfare.

To incorporate the dynamic and multifaceted nature of animal welfare, we propose the Dynamic Animal Welfare Concept (DAWCon). This study first summarizes a number of well-established current concepts of animal welfare, such as the Five Freedoms (FAWC - Farm Animal Welfare Council, 1979aFAWC - Farm Animal Welfare Council, 1979b), the Five Domains (Mellor, 2017), and the Quality of Life concept (Yeates and Main, 2009Yeates, 2016). We then expand on the DAWCon and elaborate on its different aspects, comparing DAWCon with well-established welfare concepts and outlining its potential merits.

Concepts of animal welfare

The five freedoms concept

The welfare of intensively farmed animals has been the subject of investigations since the work of a committee, headed by Brambell et al., 1965, more than half a century ago. This work was seminal for the concept of the Five Freedoms put forward by the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) (1979) of the United Kingdom, which has since then been used as a guide to assess animal welfare, in particular on commercial farms (Brambell et al., 1965), forming the basis for a number of welfare assessment tools (e.g., Blokhuis et al., 2007Veissier et al., 2008Blokhuis et al., 2010).

Four of the five freedoms primarily concentrate on aspects of husbandry that potentially compromise welfare (1: freedom from hunger or thirst; 2: freedom from discomfort; 3: freedom from pain, injury or disease; 5: freedom from fear and distress). These freedoms largely neglect factors that might promote animal welfare (McCulloch, 2013), i.e. the Five Freedoms concept has received criticism (McCulloch, 2013Cornish et al., 2016Lawrence et al., 2018). The fourth freedom, namely “freedom to express normal behavior - by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.” (FAWC - Farm Animal Welfare Council 1979a1979bFAWC - Farm Animal Welfare Committee, 2013) is the only one that focuses on positive factors, taking account of animal’s perspective and the animal’s wants.

Removal of negative factors (e.g., hunger, thirst, pain, fear, and distress), as explicitly stated in the first, second, third and fifth freedoms, are believed to improve welfare. This assumption is challenged by the biological function of these negative states: they may help an animal to cope with its environment and to survive (Ohl and van der Staay, 2012). For example, the experience of pain evokes, in interaction with cognitive processes, certain behavioral reactions such as avoidance of pain inducing stimuli or protection of affected body parts and has as such a protective character (e.g., Rutherford, 2002). Similarly, the stress response aids the animal in regaining a state of normal biological functioning (Moberg, 2000). Thus, negative (emotional) reactions should be considered as an indicator of an animal’s adaptive capacity to avoid ‘negative welfare’ (Ohl and van der Staay, 2012). Even though negative experiences can temporarily be neutralized by applying (one of) the 5 freedoms, this hardly can be considered an improvement of welfare, as negative experiences form the basis for the animal’s motivation to obtain resources or to avoid e.g. pain-inducing stimuli. Animals should be given the opportunities to perform behavior they experience as rewarding (e.g. searching for food) (e.g., Mellor, 2016a). Moreover, the absence of factors considered as negative does not guarantee per se that the animal experiences good welfare.

The five domains concept

The Five Domains concept was originally formulated in 1994 to assess the impact of procedures on the welfare of experimental animals (Mellor and Reid, 1994). It reformulated the Five Freedoms into Five Domains, namely 1, thirst/hunger/malnutrition, 2, environmental challenge, 3, disease/injury/functional impairment, 4, behavioral/interactive restriction, and 5, anxiety/fear/pain/distress, to guide those responsible for safeguarding animal welfare, i.e., owners, animal care takers, wildlife managers, etc. The Five Domains concept can be applied to animals inside and outside the experimental context, is continuously being updated (Mellor, 2016aMellor, 2016b), emphasizes the importance of positive affective experiences (Mellor, 2015), and takes human-animal interactions into account (Mellor et al., 2020).

The notion of the importance of positive experiences, rather than the mere absence of negative experiences, has been a major driver in animal welfare research. Consequently, the individual animal’s perception of its welfare state has become an important research focus in recent years.

The quality of life concept

The Quality of Life concept is inspired by human psychology (Green and Mellor, 2011) and medicine (in particular in relation to mental health, Berlim and Fleck, 2003), focuses on how the individual perceives its own welfare state. In animals, Quality of Life takes the balance between negative and positive experiences into account. The preponderance of positive experiences increases Quality of Life, at the same time individual variation in the impact of certain experiences needs to be taken into consideration (McMillan, 2005). Yeates (2016) added the important notion that Quality of Life needs to be considered over time, as a sum of experiences made by the individual. Consequently, he suggests considering Quality of Life and Animal Welfare over time as synonyms.

A dynamic concept of animal welfare: welfare as a function of adaptation

The Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Utrecht University in the Netherlands applies a concept of animal welfare (Ohl and Hellebrekers, 2009) developed by Ohl & van der Staay (2012). Building on previous animal welfare concepts, this concept states “An individual is in a positive welfare state when it is able to actively adapt to its living conditions and to reach a state that it perceives as positive.” (Ohl and Hellebrekers, 2009, p. 754; translated from Dutch). Integrating the dynamic aspect of adaptation and the concepts of the Five Freedoms, Five Domains, and Quality of Life, we previously proposed a conceptual approach to animal welfare stating that an individual is in a positive welfare state when it has “the freedom adequately to react to [conditions that potentially compromise welfare and] display normal behavioral patterns that allow the animal to adapt to the demands of the prevailing environmental circumstances and enable it to reach a state that it perceives as positive.” (Ohl and van der Staay, 2012, p. 17). Here we present and discuss a modified and extended version of this approach, the Dynamic Animal Welfare Concept (DAWCon):

An individual is likely in a positive welfare state when it is mentally and physically capable and possesses the ability and opportunity to react adequately to sporadic or lasting appetitive and adverse internal and external stimuli, events, and conditions. Adequate reactions are elements of an animal’s normal behavior. They allow the animal to cope with and adapt to the demands of the (prevailing) environmental circumstances, enabling it to reach a state that it perceives as positive, i.e., that evokes positive emotions.

The dynamics of the individual animal’s capacity to adequately cope and adapt to its environment is central to the concept of welfare. Whereas the adaptive capacity of an animal includes both positive and negative emotional responses, attention in the animal welfare discussion is mostly directed at ‘negative’ emotions. In DAWCon, the continuum between positive and negative welfare is considered; it recognizes that the animal must have (or must be provided) the freedom and capacity to react appropriately, i.e., adaptively, to both positive as well as potentially harmful (negative) stimuli. Within this framework, it is of utmost relevance to assessing whether an animal is able to fulfill the demands of the respective environmental circumstances, given the limits of the animals’ capacity to adapt (see Box 1Figure 1) (Ohl and van der Staay, 2012).

Box 1
Graphical representation of the net effects of internal and external factors and of the limit of adaptability on an individual’s welfare state.

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