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The notion ‘quality of life’ (QoL) suggests that welfare in animals encompasses more than just an absence of suffering; it concerns the quality of an animal’s entire relationship with its environment, of how it lives its life. Judgements of such quality are based on the integration of perceived details of how animals behave over time in different contexts. The scientific status of such judgements has long been ambiguous, but in recent decades has begun to be addressed by animal scientists. This paper starts with a brief review of qualitative approaches to the study of animal behaviour, which tend to address characteristics such as individuality, personality, and emotionality. The question then arises whether such characteristics involve a subjective, experiential aspect, and identify animals as sentient beings. The second half of this paper argues that taking the integrative nature of qualitative judgements seriously enables a ‘whole animal’ perspective, through which it becomes possible to view behaviour as a dynamic, expressive body language that provides a basis for assessing the quality of an animal’s experience (eg contented, anxious). Judging this quality is a skill that requires knowledge of species-specific behaviour, experience in observing and interacting with animals in different contexts, and a willingness to communicate with animals as sentient beings. A substantial body of research indicates that this skill can function reliably in a scientific context, and can be applied usefully as a practical welfare assessment tool. Thus qualitative approaches to the study of animal behaviour should make an important contribution to the growing interest in animal QoL.


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