Prioritisation of animal welfare issues in the UK using expert consensus

Fiona Rioja-Lang, Heather Bacon, Melanie Connor, CM Dwyer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)
160 Downloads (Pure)


Background: The welfare of all animals under human management is an area of consistent public concern, but strategies to improve welfare may vary across species. In this study, expert consensus, using a modified Delphi approach, was used to prioritise welfare issues of farmed and companion animals in the UK. Methods: The study involved 117 experts, divided between eight species groups. Experts were recruited from a broad range of disciplines. Two rounds of online surveys were conducted using the online survey tool, and the final round was an in-person workshop with a subsection of experts (n=21). The experts agreed that welfare issues should be ranked considering three categories: (1) severity, (2) duration and (3) perceived prevalence. Results: A comprehensive list of welfare issues was generated for each species by discussion boards (cats, rabbits and horses) or by literature review (dogs, pigs, poultry, cattle and small ruminants). In the first online survey, the experts scored each welfare issue using the three categories (severity, duration and prevalence) on a 6-point Likert scale, where 1=never/none and 6=always/high. Lists of welfare issues were reduced to 25 per cent-59 per cent of the total number, by determining mean ranks from expert ratings. In round 2, experts were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the rankings. In the final stage, during the workshop, the top-ranking welfare issues for animals were determined for individual animals (considering the greatest severity and duration, in the expert's opinion) and for perceived prevalence. Conclusions: Overall, prioritised welfare issues included lack of knowledge of welfare needs, social behaviour issues, problem behaviours, inappropriate diet and environment, lack of veterinary care, consequences from breeding decisions, poor pain management, delayed euthanasia and chronic ill health. The Delphi process resulted in consensus on the most significant welfare challenges of animals in the UK and can help to guide future research and education priority decisions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)490
Number of pages9
JournalVeterinary Record
Issue number12
Early online date5 Jul 2020
Publication statusPrint publication - 19 Dec 2020


  • cats
  • dogs
  • farm animals
  • horses
  • rabbits
  • welfare


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