Improving animal welfare

Improving animal welfare is one of the AVA's five strategic priorities.

Veterinarians support and enhance animal welfare in every aspect of their professional lives. Whether in research, teaching or clinical practice, veterinarians consider the welfare of animals their first priority. We see improving animal welfare as a key area where we can work towards the AVA's organisational vision, which is to be 'the health and welfare leader in Australia's animal industries'.

Veterinarians have a strong foundation in the disciplines of scientific inquiry, and highly value an evidence-based approach to animal welfare. The Australian Veterinary Association bases its policies and advocacy activities on scientific evidence.

At the same time, it is widely accepted that scientific assessments of animal welfare involve a number of considerations that are ethical in nature. These considerations will change over time as more becomes known, and this is the case in all scientific inquiry. There remain large areas of knowledge about animal welfare that require further scientific research.

To acknowledge the ethical dimension of animal welfare, the AVA has adopted a statement of principles that articulates the ethical basis for our policies and advocacy on animal welfare issues.

Statement of principles

Animals are sentient beings that are conscious, feel pain, and experience emotions.[1] [2] Animals and people have established relationships for mutual benefit for thousands of years.

Humans have a responsibility or duty of care to protect animals. Where a person does not meet his or her obligations to animals in his or her care, animals may suffer. When this happens, the law must be able to adequately intervene to enforce compliance and prevent suffering.

Animals have intrinsic value, and should be treated humanely by the people who benefit from them. Owned animals should be safe from physical and psychological harm. They need access to water and species-appropriate shelter and food, and should be able to fulfil their important behavioural and social needs. They must receive prompt veterinary care when required, and have as painless and stress-free a death as possible.

Animals can be used to benefit humans if they are humanely treated, but the benefit to people should be balanced with the cost to the animal. They should not be used in direct combat or for purposes where suffering, injury or distress is likely to be caused.

Humans should strive to provide positive experiences to promote a good life for the animals in their care. We should strive for continuous and incremental improvement in the treatment and welfare of animals.

Humans have a responsibility to care for the natural environment of free-living native animals. People should take steps to preserve endangered species, and protect native animals from disease where possible.

Program outline

The purpose of this program is to identify tangible goals to improve animal welfare, and set in place an action plan to achieve those specific goals. There are four streams – production animals, companion animals,  leadership and reactive advocacy. The first three identify major new areas of endeavour while the reactive stream incorporates our existing and ongoing advocacy work on animal welfare issues.

Production animals

There are two themes to this stream. The first is a goal to achieve greater influence with all livestock industry organisations, especially in relation to the setting of health and welfare standards. We will build on existing relationships, and be strategic about communication in relation to the value the profession provides to livestock industries.

The second theme is supporting AVA members to promote the use of welfare standards on-farm, to improve productivity and profitability and meet community expectations for the treatment of livestock.

Companion animals

The focus of the companion animals stream will be on inherited disorders in pure-bred dogs. We are working in collaboration with RSPCA Australia to address specific visible heritable traits that impact on health and welfare as a first step before moving on to address other inherited defects.

Initially the focus will be on exaggerated breed features such as brachycephaly (shorted heads and flattened facial features), dwarfism (chondrodysplasia) and increased skin folds, with a view to increasing public awareness around the negative welfare implications of these traits. RSPCA Australia will  develop some short videos on pedigree dog issues and explore additional media coverage options. The AVA will contribute veterinary expertise. The AVA also supports the VetCompass project, gathering and analysing data on all inherited conditions in companion animals. Ultimately the aim is for breed societies to change their breed standards to select for healthy phenotypes.

We will also be launching an awareness campaign in early 2018 about the welfare problems associated with "cosmetic teeth cleaning" performed on companion animals by lay providers.


In 2015 the AVA convened the Animal Welfare Roundtable in cooperation with RSPCA Australia and the National Farmers Federation. This meeting included key representatives from all the major stakeholder organisations from across the country as well as people who were involved with the former Australian Animal Welfare Strategy.

During the roundtable, various options for national coordination of animal welfare efforts were floated, including requesting Commonwealth re-engagement in the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy. The AVA will continue to work with stakeholders to advocate for continuous improvements and a national strategy for animal welfare, and make this part of any election policy platforms that we launch into the future. The AVA is currently the custodian of the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy website while pursuing possible broad collaborative approaches to animal welfare leadership at a national level.

Reactive advocacy

The AVA has historically been active on a range of animal welfare topics and this will continue. Our efforts are generally focussed on topics that are receiving a high level of attention in the public debate, where opportunities to achieve change are greatest. Current priorities include:

Other priorities have included:

  • Welfare standards and guidelines
  • Restricted acts of veterinary science
  • Equine dentistry
  • Live export
  • Humane control of invasive species


[1] Animals that are known to be both conscious and sentient include all of the vertebrates, and some classes of invertebrates such as cephalopods and probably some crustacea. Ongoing research may lead to inclusion of additional groups within this definition. Sentience is the capacity to experience emotions: pain, suffering, negative and positive affective states.

[2] Mellor DJ, Patterson-Kane E, & Stafford KJ. The Sciences of Animal Welfare. UFAW Animal Welfare Series. Chichester UK: Wiley-Blackwell. 2009: 34-52


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