The Five Domains

The Five Domains Model is a science-based structure for assessing animal welfare, which recognises that animals can experience feelings, ranging from negative to positive. It provides a best-practice framework to assess welfare in animals of all species and is used by all ZAA-accredited zoos and aquariums to assess animal welfare.

The first four domains (Nutrition, Environment, Health and Behaviour) all help inform us about the animal’s various experiences, which make up the fifth domain, the Mental Domain.

The Five Domains Model was developed by Professor David Mellor, former Director of the Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre at Massey University. It is the animal welfare assessment model adopted by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums in their Animal Welfare Strategy.


Image modified by WAZA from Mellor and Beausoleil 2015


Affective states

Affective states or experiences (feelings and sensations) exist on a range from negative to positive. When we look at an animal’s collective affective experiences all together, we can make an assessment of welfare.
Positive welfare is made up of many positive affective states/experiences, as in the diagram below. The Five Domains Model can be used to assess the affective states of animals under each domain and give us an indication of overall welfare.



Five Freedoms vs. Five Domains

Whilst ZAA recognises the value of using the Five Freedoms for driving the prevention of negative welfare in animals, the Association applies the Five Domains for animal welfare assessment as this model allows us to progress beyond preventing bad animal welfare to include actively promoting positive animal welfare.

The Five Domains Model is considered more contemporary in the field of animal welfare science and was developed as a refinement of the Five Freedoms and a framework for overall assessment of quality of life.

John Webster, creator of the Five Freedoms explains, “the Five Domains approach provides an effective foundation for research and evidence-based conclusions as to the impact of the things we do on the mental state of the animals in our care. Moreover, it is one that can evolve with time.

The Five Freedoms are much simpler. They do not attempt to achieve an overall picture of mental state and welfare status, but the principles upon which they are based are timeless. Their aim is to be no more than a memorable set of signposts to right action.” (Webster, 2016)