An animal welfare program must be built upon the shared value that every animal deserves the best life possible; that fundamental belief must guide every decision in every circumstance. Comprehensive program elements, such as veterinary care, husbandry, nutrition, training and enrichment, reproductive management, and research, must be combined synergistically as part of an interdisciplinary approach to animal welfare; veterinarians have a role in each of these animal care disciplines. While most zoos and aquariums have all constituent elements in place, they may not be linking them holistically into a program that supports providing the best life possible. The best life approach requires considering all program stakeholders as full partners. Because there is overlap between all disciplines involved, navigating differences in function and opinions requires collaboration built-around healthy relationships, mutual respect, trust, and open communication. With effective partnerships, roles and expectations are clarified, problems are solved, and goals are accomplished, resulting in better animal care and welfare. Values provide a simple filter for making decisions and resolving conflicts where there are competing interests. There should not be a hierarchy of individual priorities, but rather a balanced approach that does not waver from providing the best life possible for every animal in every circumstance. At times, this means making compromises within individual disciplines to benefit overall animal welfare. Building teams that can execute truly integrated, multidisciplinary care is central to providing optimal animal welfare. As welfare stewards, all partners must collaborate effectively because the costs of failure are too great.
The authors wish to thank the Animal Sciences Division of Denver Zoo for supporting staff in sharing its evidence-based animal welfare program within the professional community.