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The Five Domains of Animal Welfare

Since 1965 we have had the ‘The Five Freedoms’ which have assisted organisations with assessing animal welfare. This was further strengthened in 2006 with the introduction of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 which consisted of five needs:

  1. Need for a suitable environment
  2. Need for a suitable diet
  3. Need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  4. Need to be housed with, or apart, from other animals
  5. Need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

These were created in order to help us ensure that an animal’s essential needs are met as defined in legislation, as well as helping us to understand what welfare standards we should be aspiring to.

However, in all the years which have passed, our knowledge and understanding of animal welfare has expanded and it has become vital to re-examine the way we look at and consider animal welfare so we can ensure animals have the best possible lives.

The Five Freedoms and Five Domains frameworks contain essentially the same five elements. However, the Five Domains explore the mental state of an animal in more detail and acknowledge that for every physical aspect that is affected, there may be an accompanying emotion or subjective experience that may also affect welfare. This is useful in terms of reinforcing the message that emotional needs are equally important as physical needs for animals.

The Five Domains is the most recent evolution of the five freedoms and provides us with a means to approach animal welfare in a more holistic manner, meaning that we are not just meeting their most basic of needs, but are making decisions that can further promote their physical and mental wellbeing.

The Five Domains Model

Behavioural interactions

This includes interactions with humans, animals and their environment. Behaviour is the way in which an animal behaves in response to a particular situation or stimulus. Examples of horse behaviour include playing, eating and sleeping.


Nutrition is the process of obtaining the food necessary for health and growth. Taking the time to learn about what food and drink animals need and proving them with the right amount is very important. A horse’s diet can also affect it’s mental state. Providing the right diet can bring a horse pleasure and satisfaction. A poor diet may result in hunger, thirst and discomfort.

Mental State

Just like the importance of understanding human mental health this domain ensures we think about what animals may be thinking and feeling too.


Health is defined as the state of being free from injury or illness. Animals can be in good health or bad health for a variety of reasons. A horse’s health can also affect it’s mental state.

Physical environment

The environment is the surroundings in which an animal lives and operates. Providing a safe and comfortable home for animals is very important. A horse’s environment can also affect its mental state. Providing the right environment can make a horse feel safe, comfortable and happy. A change in the environment may make a horse feel uncomfortable.

As you can see from this, the Five Domains overlap, and is helping us move beyond simply providing the means for animals to live; allowing us to provide opportunities to ensure animals have a life worth living.