Improving animal welfare


Improving animal welfare is one of the AVA's three 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.

Veterinarians are scientists and take 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 assessments of animal welfare also involve considerations that are ethical in nature.

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 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 food and shelter, 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 against 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 life worth living 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 speak up on issues that are important to our members.

Companion animals

Love is Blind campaign

The focus of the companion animals stream is inherited disorders in pure-bred dogs. We continue to work in collaboration with RSPCA Australia to address specific visible heritable traits that impact on health and welfare – our "Love is Blind" campaign launched in 2016.

Focusing on exaggerated breed features such as brachycephaly (flattened facial features), dwarfism (chondrodysplasia) and excessive skin folds, the aim is to increase public awareness of the negative welfare implications of these exaggerated physical traits, and reduce their use in advertising.

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.

Anaesthesia-free dentistry campaign

We are launching an awareness campaign in 2019 about the welfare problems associated with "cosmetic teeth cleaning" performed on companion animals by lay providers (so-called "Anaesthesia-free dentistry").

Pet Food Regulation

PetFAST is a system to track health problems in dogs and cats that are suspected of being associated with pet food, treats and pet meat. It is designed to identify possible patterns that might point to a cause.

PetFAST is a voluntary joint initiative of the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) and the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA).

In 2017 and 2018 the AVA was involved in responding to two separate pet food adverse events affecting cats and dogs nationally. A Senate Enquiry on the safety of pet food was undertaken in the first half of 2018, with AVA providing both written and verbal evidence into the enquiry. The Senate Report was released in October 2018, reflecting many of the AVA's recommendations.

The AVA is part of an ongoing government working group on this issue, where we will provide expert advice on regulation of pet food quality and recall in instances of adverse events.

Our submission into the Senate Enquiry can be viewed here:

Regulatory approaches to ensure the safety of pet food – 20 July 2018

Companion animal management

Pets are an important part of Australian families and communities. Part of socially-responsible pet ownership is ensuring pets are properly socialised, trained and cared for. In a minority of cases, poor management leads to issues including dog bites, and unwanted companion animals. The AVA regularly provides advice to the government and community on these issues. Some information is avalable at the following links.

Production animals

Livestock welfare

In 2018, the ACV launched WELFARECHECK, which is a resource for creating farm welfare plans in consulation with producers. Using this resource, ACV members can promote high standards of animal welfare on-farm, to improve productivity and profitability, and meet community expectations for the treatment of livestock.

AVA is also involved in the development of national animal welfare standards and guidelines; these include development of standards for poultry welfare, welfare at abattoirs, and pig welfare.

Live Export

Since early 2018, the AVA has been involved in the review of the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL Review). We have been part of the government's Reference Group for this review, and have contributed a series of submissions into this process:

Moss Review

In April 2018, following a 60 Minutes program about live export of sheep to the Middle East, the government launched an additional review of the Heat Stress Risk Assessment model currently applied to live export. AVA made detailed science-based contributions to this review process, specifically on the scientific basis of thermoregulation and heat stress in sheep, and this has had a significant impact on the government's response to this issue. Our submissions can be viewed here:

Other relevant policies and position statements 

National leadership in animal welfare

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 (AAWS). It has led to ongoing dialogue with stakeholders about the need for national leadership in animal welfare, and we continue to lobby the Commonwealth Government on this issue. This will be a key aspect of our 2019 Federal election platform.

Reactive animal welfare advocacy

The AVA continues to be active on a number of specific animal welfare topics which receive a high level of attention in the public debate. Ongoing priorities include:

Other priorities include:

  • National Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines
  • Restricted acts of veterinary science
  • Equine dentistry
  • Hendra virus
  • Humane control of invasive species

Other submissions

  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

Our advocacy work spans a number of areas

We monitor and respond to issues that may impact the profession, animals, and the community.

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