The scientific assessment of the well-being of an animal involves finding indicators of three broad criteria: 1) a high level of biological functioning; 2) freedom from suffering in the sense of prolonged fear, pain, and other negative experiences; and 3) positive experiences such as comfort and contentment. The tools available to assess animal wellbeing include a mixture of common sense and cutting-edge science. Measures of animal productivity can help to assess an animal’s level of biological functioning, but they need to be used with care. Among veterinary approaches, pathology detects breakdown in biological functioning, while epidemiology identifies the circumstances under which such breakdown is likely to occur. Useful physiological approaches include 1) “pre-pathological” states such as reduced immune competence, which are predictive of breakdown of biological functioning, and 2) corroborative measures of short-term negative experiences such as fear and pain. Behavioral approaches include the study of abnormal behavior, expression of emotions, environmental preference tests, and various approaches to studying motivation strength, which provide insights into the animals’ positive and negative reactions to its environment. As well as contributing to the assessment of well-being, research is needed on how well-being is related to values, economics, and regulation. Research must also support the development of alternative housing and management systems which will be positive for both animals and animal producers.
Fraser, D. (1993). Assessing animal well-being: common sense, uncommon science. Food animal well-being. In Purdue University, Office of Agricultural Research Programs (Ed.), pp. 37-54.