The Animal Welfare concept


A FOUR PAWS perspective

FOUR PAWS is committed to shaping its work according to latest scientific evidence. To that end, FOUR PAWS recommends the use of 'The Five Domains Model', created by Prof. Emeritus D.J. Mellor and further adapted by FOUR PAWS as a tool for guiding animal welfare assessments.

Since the 1990s science has greatly improved our knowledge of animal welfare. We now know much more about the unpleasant and pleasant mental experiences animals can have and how they affect their welfare. This knowledge has led to the development of new tools that allow a thorough assessment of animal welfare. Such assessments are a regular part of welfare management and are aimed at improving the practical care of animals. 

Guided by the well-known 'Five Freedoms' [1], the early welfare focus was on preventing animals from having negative experiences (e.g. thirst, hunger, pain, fear). However, we now know that animals can never be completely free of these experiences. This is because these negative experiences are needed to keep animals alive by, for example, driving them to drink water, eat food, avoid injury and stay safe. In addition, we now also know that animals are able to have positive experiences (e.g. pleasurable tastes whilst eating, physical comfort, enjoyable companionship, excited playfulness) which enhance their quality of life.

The Five Freedoms concept is nowadays an inadequate tool for assessing animal welfare due to some key points. Firstly, the Five Freedoms concept does not refer specifically to positive experiences. Secondly, it disregards the role some negative experiences have in keeping animals alive. Thirdly, it refers to only a small proportion of the mental experiences animals can have. An alternative to the Five Freedoms is therefore needed.

The Five Domains Model [2,3] is a modern tool for guiding systematic and thorough assessments of animal welfare states. The Model incorporates the understanding that mental experiences, be they negative or positive, are a reflection of an animal’s internal states (e.g. dehydration leading to thirst; injury causing pain) or external circumstances (e.g. threat from attack leading to fear; presence of conspecifics leading to pleasures of being bonded). The Model therefore focusses on identifying the internal and external conditions that give rise to mental experiences. The sum of all mental experiences represents the welfare status of an animal at a given time.

Our aim, therefore, is to keep negative experiences as mild and as few as possible and to enable animals to also have positive experiences, with the goal of achieving an overall positive quality of life balance.

Below is a table, adapted from Mellor 2016 [4], detailing five 'General Welfare Aims', supported in each case by several 'Focussing Welfare Targets'. The listed Provisions are directed at securing the corresponding Aims and Targets. On the one hand, these welfare aims and targets seek to practically minimise the occurrence of negative internal states and external situations and the negative experiences associated with them. On the other hand, a strong emphasis is placed on promoting positive experiences. Note that the stipulated General Welfare Aims parallel the Five Domains of the Model which were originally assigned the neutral designations of 'Nutrition', 'Environment', 'Health', 'Behaviour' and 'Mental State'. 

General Welfare AimsFocusing Welfare TargetsProvisions
Good NutritionTo minimise thirst and hunger and enable eating to be a pleasurable experience.By providing ready access to fresh water and a species-appropriate diet to maintain full health and vigour [a].
Good EnvironmentTo minimise discomfort and exposure to adverse environmental conditions and to promote physical comfort.By providing appropriate outdoor access and suitable shelter against adverse weather conditions [b], and/or housing with: different functional areas [c], comfortable resting areas, and good air quality.
Good HealthTo minimise pain [d], disease, and other discomforts and to promote the pleasures of vigour, strength, robustness and harmonious physical activity.By preventing or rapidly diagnosing and treating diseases and injuries, and by stimulating, among others, proper muscle tone, natural body posture, cardiorespiratory function, and digestive system processes.
Appropriate BehaviourTo minimise threats and unpleasant restrictions on behaviour and movement, and to promote engagement in rewarding activities.By providing sufficient space, conspecific company [e] and appropriately varied conditions [f] to allow for species-specific behavioural expression.
Positive mental experiencesTo promote the experience of various forms of comfort, pleasure, interest, confidence and a sense of control.By providing safe, species-appropriate and conspecific opportunities to have pleasurable experiences.


1. Farm Animal Welfare Council Second report on priorities for research and development in farm animal welfare. FAWC, Minist. Agric. Fish. Food, Tolworth (Now DEFRA, London) 1993.
Mellor, D.J. Updating Animal Welfare Thinking: Moving beyond the “Five Freedoms” towards “A Life Worth Living.” Animals 2016, 6.
Mellor, D.J. Operational details of the five domains model and its key applications to the assessment and management of animal welfare. Animals 2017, 7.
Mellor, D.J. Moving beyond the “Five freedoms” by Updating the “Five Provisions” and Introducing Aligned “Animal Welfare Aims.” Animals 2016, 6.

a) E.g. cattle, sheep and goats having access to pasture where fibre-rich feed is available, offering a variety of textures, tastes and smells.
b) And/or because housing is not necessary, e.g. if, at pasture, appropriate natural/artificial shelter is provided. Care must be taken to ensure the management applied is directed towards the corresponding welfare aim.
c) Care should be taken to provide species-appropriate functional areas. Some animal species (e.g. waterfowl, buffalo), in addition to drinking, need access to water for other purposes.
d) E.g. as a result of mutilations.
e) E.g. enabling shared pleasurable activities such as grooming and playing.
f) E.g. enrichment.