Forensic Behavioural Analysis: Using the Five Domains Model to Assess Suffering in Animals (Part 2)
World Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress Proceedings, 2019
R. Ledger
Animal Behaviour and Welfare Consulting, Animal Cruelty Behavioural Forensics, Vancouver, BC, Canada


According to Gregory (2004), from a knowledge of the accepted causes of suffering, and the responses that usually accompany suffering, we can judge whether or not suffering is likely to be present for that situation. For example, if a dog is struck (the cause), and he yelps (the response), we can determine that the dog experienced the negative affect of pain (a cause of suffering).

The Five Domains Model is a peer-reviewed framework, which allows for a systematic assessment of an individual animal’s welfare, by considering all of the various conditions under which suffering may occur (Domains 1–4: nutritional, health, environmental and behavioural constraints), and the nature of that suffering (Domain 5, the negative affective states, or feelings arising as a result of the constraints in Domains 1–4). The Five Domains Model has been reported on and reviewed in a vast number of peer-reviewed publications, and is relevant across species living in a variety of conditions: farm animals (Mellor et al. 2009; Hemsworth et al. 2015), working animals (Littlewood, Mellor 2016), sport animals (McGreevy et al. 2018), zoo animals (Mellor et al. 2009, 2015; Portas 2013; Sherwen et al. 2018), research animals (Mellor 2004, 2012), and other animals (Mellor et al. 2009), whales (Butterworth 2017; Clegg, Delfour 2018) and pest species (Sharp, Saunders 2011, 2011; Beausoleil et al. 2012; Beausoleil, Mellor 2012, 2015; Littin et al. 2014; Baker et al. 2016; Beausoleil et al. 2016). Consequently, the Five Domains Model has been adopted internationally by various organizations as part of their regulatory and approval processes to aid with the assessment of animal welfare.

These include:

  • From 1997 in New Zealand, the mandatory use of the 5DM to assess the negative welfare impacts of research, teaching and testing procedures has been applied to a wide range of sentient animals (including horses, cattle, deer, goats, sheep, pigs, domestic poultry, game birds, other birds including endemic, native and introduced species, dogs, cats, guinea-pigs, mice, rats, rabbits, ferrets, stoats, weasels, wallabies, possums, cetaceans, reptiles, amphibians and fishes).
  • World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (Mellor et al. 2015).
  • More than 50 legal cases in Canada (charges have considered or have been laid under the Criminal Code and Provincial legislation), where Courts have sought to understand the nature and severity of animal suffering (Ledger, Mellor 2018).


1.  Baker SE, Sharp TM, Macdonald DW. (2016). Assessing animal welfare impacts in the management of European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), European moles (Talpa europaea) and Carrion crows (Corvus corone). PLoS One. 2016;11:e0146298.

2.  Beausoleil NJ, Mellor DJ. Complementary roles for systematic analytical evaluation and qualitative whole animal profiling in welfare assessment for Three Rs applications. In: ALTEX Proceedings, 1/12, Proceedings of WC8. 2012:455–460.

3.  Beausoleil NJ, Mellor DJ Introducing breathlessness as a significant animal welfare issue. New Zealand Veterinary Journal. 2015;63(1):44–51.

4.  Beausoleil JL, Fisher P, Mellor D, Warburton B. Ranking the negative impacts of wildlife control methods may help to advance the Three Rs. In: ALTEX Proceedings, 1/12, Proceedings of WC8. 2012:481–485.

5.  Beausoleil NJ, Fisher P, Littin KE, et al. A systematic approach to evaluating and ranking the relative animal welfare impacts of wildlife control methods: Poisons used for lethal control of brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) in New Zealand. Wildlife Research. 2016;43:553–565.

6.  Butterworth A. Report of the Workshop to Support the IWC’s Consideration of Non-Hunting Related Aspects of Cetacean Welfare (IWC/66/WKMandWI Report 01). Cambridge, UK: International Whaling Commission; 2017.

7.  Clegg ILK, Delfour F. Can we assess marine mammal welfare in captivity and in the wild? Considering the example of bottlenose dolphins. Aquatic Mammals. 2018;44:181–200.

8.  Gregory NG. The Physiology and Behaviour of Animal Suffering. UFAW Animal Welfare Series. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Science Publishing; 2004.

9.  Hemsworth PH, Mellor DJ, Cronin GM, Tilbrook AJ. Scientific assessment of animal welfare. New Zealand Veterinary Journal. 2015;63(1):24–30.

10.  Ledger RA, Mellor DJ. Forensic use of the Five Domains Model for assessing suffering in cases of animal cruelty. Animals. 2018;8(7):E101.

11.  Littlewood, K.E.; Mellor, D.J. Changes in the welfare of an injured working farm dog assessed using the Five Domains Model. Animals. 2016;6:58.

12.  Littin K, Fisher P, Beausoleil NJ, Sharp T. Welfare aspects of vertebrate pest control and culling: ranking control techniques for humaneness. Rev Sci Tech Off Int Epiz. 2014;33(1):281–289.

13.  McGreevy P, Berger J, De Brauwere N, et al. Using the Five Domains Model to assess the adverse impacts of husbandry, veterinary, and equitation interventions on horse welfare. Animals.2018; 8:41.

14.  Mellor D, Patterson-Kane E, Stafford KJ. The Sciences of Animal Welfare. UFAW Animal Welfare Series. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell; 2009.

15.  Mellor DJ, Hunt S, Gusset M, eds. Caring for Wildlife: The World Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare Strategy. Gland, Switzerland: World Association of Zoos and Aquariums Executive Office; 2015.

16.  Mellor DJ. Comprehensive assessment of harms caused by experimental, teaching and testing procedures on live animals. Alternatives to Laboratory Animals. 2004;32(1):453–457.

17.  Mellor DJ. Affective states and the assessment of laboratory-induced animal welfare impacts. In: ALTEX Proceedings, 1/12, Proceedings of WC8. 2012:445–449.

18.  Portas T. Achieving positive animal welfare outcomes in zoos and aquariums. In: Proceedings of the 2013 RSPCA Australia Scientific Seminar, When Coping Is Not Enough: Promoting Positive Welfare States in Animals. 2013:46–50. Canberra, Australia.

19.  Sharp T, Saunders GA. Model for Assessing the Relative Humaneness of Pest Animal Control Methods. 2nd ed. Canberra, Australia: Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources; 2011.

20.  Sherwen SL, Hemsworth LM, Beausoleil NJ, Embury A, Mellor DJ. An animal welfare risk assessment process for zoos. Animals. 2018;8:130.


Speaker Information
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R. Ledger
Animal Behaviour & Welfare Consulting
Animal Cruelty Behavioural Forensics
Vancouver, BC, Canada

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