Animal welfare

The veterinary profession is an animal welfare focused profession, with a responsibility to help protect the welfare of animals.

This is reflected in our most recent member research, where animal welfare emerged as a top priority issue for BVA members.

Promoting animal welfare to children

Despite the fact that over half of UK households own a pet, findings from the PDSA Animal Wellbeing Report show that, year-on-year, owners' awareness of their pets' welfare needs remains consistently low. With this in mind, the Veterinary Animal Welfare Coalition has launched a set of stickers to help children understand the 5 welfare needs of animals. 

Get involved: order a free pack of stickers by emailing

BVA animal welfare strategy

In recognition of the veterinary profession’s animal welfare focus, on 3 February 2016 President Sean Wensley launched the BVA animal welfare strategy (1.3 MB PDF) at our annual London Dinner.

The strategy, ‘Vets speaking up for animal welfare’, provides a framework to help the veterinary profession advocate good animal welfare outcomes for all animals, identifying six priority areas as building blocks for further action.

The six priority areas are:

  • Animal welfare assessment
  • Ethics
  • Legislation
  • Advocacy
  • Education
  • International

Each priority area outlines its aim, evidence gathered through consultation, and actions for BVA. 

The Strategy’s ultimate priority is for BVA members and the veterinary profession to contribute to solutions for real-world animal welfare problems. Specifically, under Advocacy, it includes the following actions:

  • Work closely with BVA specialist divisions, members and committees, to develop a list of specific animal welfare problems on which to develop positions and proactively campaign
  • Work with BVA specialist divisions to develop a work programme to address the agreed priority welfare problems in each sector

In early 2017 a survey was sent to all species-specialist divisions of BVA, asking them to submit up to ten animal welfare problems in their sector, considering the number of animals affected, the duration of suffering and the severity of the problem for affected animals. We are grateful to the specialist divisions for their detailed and considered responses. Separately, a desk-based review of UK animal welfare problems was undertaken, using a combination of peer-reviewed welfare prioritisation surveys, reports by independent advisory bodies, and websites and strategy documents of national UK animal welfare charities. This review was not exhaustive but was intended to help give an overview within each area. The purpose of the survey and desk-based review was to develop a list of the UK animal welfare problems currently most commonly discussed and highlighted. The collated list, supported by BVA Council as a working document detailing the key UK animal welfare problems which the veterinary profession should take a leadership role in highlighting and addressing is available: Animal welfare problems by sector (PDF 247 KB)

Our position on animal welfare

It is recognised that sentient animals are capable of experiencing positive and negative feelings such as pain, frustration and contentment and so deserve consideration and respect. 

View our full policy position on animal welfare (121 KB PDF)

Definition of animal welfare

We believe that animal welfare relates to both the physical health and mental wellbeing of the animal, as encapsulated by the five welfare needs:

  • the need for a suitable environment
  • the need for a suitable diet
  • the need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  • the need to be housed with, or apart from, other animals
  • the need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease

Animal welfare legislation and guidance

Under UK animal welfare legislation there is a legal duty of care for all animal keepers to meet the five animal welfare needs (listed above) and avoid causing animals any unnecessary suffering.

The following resources are also available:

Our activity on animal welfare

We have developed position statements or guidance on the following animal welfare issues:

Extreme conformation

Extremes of conformation in animals can be defined as when an animal’s body shape, structure or appearance has the potential to result in negative impacts on their health and welfare. Breeding decisions across companion and production animals should be taken with the aim of conferring healthy or healthier conformational traits, being mindful of the potential health and welfare impact of selection for specific or desirable structural features.

BVA policy position on extreme conformation

Society as a whole, including the veterinary professions, owners and keepers, breeders, registering bodies, breed clubs and societies, academics, animal charities and those with a commercial interest in the use of animals and their images, have a social and moral responsibility to work together towards:

  • ensuring healthier future generations of animals that currently experience extreme conformation
  • reducing the negative health and welfare impacts of extreme conformation
  • increasing awareness of the health and welfare issues associated with extreme conformation across different species
  • encouraging research in order to better understand and address the prevalence of, and trends in, conformation-related ill-health
  • encouraging research in order to better understand and address the prevalence of the welfare impacts resulting from extreme conformation
  • the development of objective, robust measures to contribute to the assessment of problematic conformation

BVA does however recognise that it may be necessary to select animals with specific conformational traits for scientific purposes in line with the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.

Read the BVA position on extreme conformation in full (PDF 457 KB)

BVA has developed the following position on specific breed-types or species that suffer from extreme conformation:

BVA position on brachycephalic dogs

What is the role of the veterinary profession?

The veterinary professions are required by the RCVS Professional Code of Conduct to ensure the health and welfare of animals committed to their care. As part of the profession’s responsibility to safeguard animal health and welfare, BVA supports exploring evidence-based approaches to tackle conformation-related health and welfare issues in all species

How can vets help?

  • Participate in reporting schemes regarding surgery to correct health and welfare problems relating to conformation where these exist e.g. In the case of dogs report the correction of any defect which alters the natural conformation of a Kennel Club registered dog, or any caesarean operation carried out on Kennel Club registered dogs, to the Kennel Club. For production animals, this may include reporting caesarean sections to the Artificial Insemination service or monitoring abattoir and FSA reports to identify the health and welfare impacts resulting from extreme conformation and using this to inform advise to keepers on responsible breeding decisions.
  • Advise owners and keepers not to breed from companion or production animals that have required a caesarean section due to birthing difficulties that are a result of extreme conformation
  • In companion animals, encourage neutering to prevent the perpetuation of extremes of conformation
  • Support breeders to make informed decisions as to whether certain animals can be responsibly bred to confer healthy conformational traits
  • Offer pre-purchase consultations to prospective owners to ensure informed choice regarding the health and welfare problems associated with certain breed types
  • Avoid the use of images or videos of animals with extreme conformation in practice advertising and marketing materials

How can I avoid getting a pet with extreme conformation?

BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey found that over 71% of practices offer pre-purchase advice as part of routine consultations. We would encourage all those thinking about buying a pet to arrange to speak with their local vet to receive advice on the health and welfare problems associated with certain breed types.

Your vet will also be able to provide advice as to which pet is most suitable for your lifestyle and budgetary considerations.

I think my pet has extreme conformation – what can I do?

We know pet owners have the welfare of their pets at heart. We would encourage current owners of pets with extreme conformation to take their pet for regular health checks with their local vet and avoid breeding from animals that have conformation-related problems. Obesity is also a significant contributor to the health problems of many animals with extreme conformation, so it is vital that owners carefully manage their pet’s diet and exercise regime so as to keep their pets within acceptable limits for weight and body condition.

Avoiding the use of animals with extreme conformation in advertising and marketing materials

The use of images or videos of animals with extreme conformation in advertising and marketing materials should be avoided so as to encourage responsible ownership and avoid the normalisation of poor health amongst these animals.

We would encourage veterinary practices, marketers and designers to consult the BVA Good practice guidance for the responsible use of pets in advertising before commissioning and using animals in marketing materials or consult with their local vet.

Download the BVA Good practice guidance for the responsible use of pets in advertising.