The New Zealand Veterinary Association condemns behaviour that fails protect the welfare of animals ? this is not limited to physical abuse, but also applies to situations where animals’ basic needs are not met, and their psychological and physical welfare is compromised. This includes overt transgressions such as the recent footage found in media, but also chronic issues that are less obvious but should challenge our thinking regarding animals and their welfare. Examples include malnutrition and poor body condition score, untreated, chronic flock or herd lameness and failing to provide adequate shad and shelter.

Veterinarians are often drawn to the profession because of a love for animals and a desire to uphold and assist with protecting animal welfare. As veterinarians, we do see cases of abuse and neglect, and we believe it is integral to our job to protect and help injured animals, and ensure they are kept safe.

New Zealand was one of the first countries in the world to write the five freedoms into law: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from injury and disease; freedom to express normal behaviour and adequate shelter. These concepts are now captured as part of the five domains model, where mental state is included when considering an animal’s welfare.

In August 2015, New Zealand became the first country in the world to add the word ‘sentient’ to animal welfare legislation, when this was included in New Zealand’s Animal Welfare Act (1999). “Sentience’ was not defined as part of this amendment to the legislation, and upon seeing legislative gap, NZVA has provided a definition to the profession and public.

Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Helen Beattie says: “The inclusion of ‘sentience’ in the Act should not be merely symbolic but rather should set a new standard for society’s expectations of the ways animals are treated. As a country we must move beyond minimum standards to focusing on positive welfare states and welfare enhancement. This should be consistent with scientific knowledge and current public expectations of ‘good practice’.”

“In short – The Animal Welfare Act must genuinely protect animals from not only abuse and cruelty, but protect their health and welfare, including their psychological health. The wellbeing of dairy cattle should be at the forefront of farmers’ minds.”

“We all have a responsibility to protect our vulnerable, and to take steps to stop behaviour that compromises them.”

More about sentience:

The NZVA believes that ‘sentience’ is the ability to feel, perceive or experience subjectively. (ie. the animal is not only capable of feeling pain and distress but also can have positive psychological experiences, such as comfort, pleasure or interest that are appropriate to its species, environment and circumstances).

To state that animals are sentient accepts that they can experience positive and negative emotions.

Such an acknowledgement establishes a responsibility for those in charge of animals to treat them in such a way as to prevent unnecessary pain or distress and to provide opportunities for them to experience positive emotions.


Dr Helen Beattie
New Zealand Veterinary Association Chief Veterinary Officer