Assessing the importance of natural behavior for animal welfare

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    The concept of natural behavior is a key element in current Dutch policy-making on animal welfare. It emphasizes that animals need positive experiences, in addition to minimized suffering. This paper interprets the concept of natural behavior in the context of the scientific framework for welfare assessment. Natural behavior may be defined as behavior that animals have a tendency to exhibit under natural conditions, because these behaviors are pleasurable and promote biological functioning. Animal welfare is the quality of life as perceived by the animal. Animals have evolved cognitive-emotional systems (¿welfare needs¿) to deal with a variable environment. Animals do not only have so-called physiological needs such as the need for food, water, and thermal comfort. They also need to exercise certain natural behaviors such as rooting or nest-building in pigs, and scratching or dust-bathing in poultry. All needs must be taken into account in order to assess overall welfare. The degree of need satisfaction and frustration can be assessed from scientific information about the intensity, duration, and incidence of (welfare) performance criteria such as measurements of behavior and/or (patho)physiology. Positive welfare value relates to how animals are inclined to behave under natural conditions, in preference tests, and in consumer-demand studies. Negative welfare value relates to stress, frustration, abnormal behavior, aggression, and reduced fitness. Examples are given to illustrate how the need to perform natural behaviors can be assessed following the general principles for welfare assessment, providing a first approximation of how different natural behaviors affect animal welfare
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)77-89
    JournalJournal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2006


    • motivation
    • systems
    • stress
    • reward
    • needs
    • pigs

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