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. There are four streams – production animals, companion animals, leadership and reactive advocacy.

Production animals

The goal is to achieve greater influence with livestock industry organisations in relation to the setting of health and welfare standards. We will build on existing relationships, and be strategic about communication about the value the profession provides to livestock industries.

This will include 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.  To this end, in 2018 ACV launched WELFARECHECK, which is a resource for creating farm welfare plans in consulation with producers.

It also incudes having input to the national development of animal welfare standards; in 2018 we are participating in development of standards for poultry welfare, welfare at abattoirs, and review of the standards for the export of livestock (ASEL).

Companion animals

The focus of the companion animals stream is inherited disorders in pure-bred dogs. We initially are working 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. 

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 are launching an awareness campaign in 2018 about the welfare problems associated with "cosmetic teeth cleaning" performed on companion animals by lay providers (so-called "Anaesthesia-free dentistry").


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.

Reactive 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. Current priorities include:

Other priorities include:

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


Live Export 2018


[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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