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22.3.2022 Sharing The Science: The 2020 Five Domains Model

The 2020 Five Domains Model: Including Human–Animal Interactions in Assessments of Animal Welfare

This is a really interesting review paper looking at the positive and negative effects of various things on the health and well being of animals. The study divides the assessment of animal welfare (not just equine) into five domains: nutrition, physical environment, health, behavioural interactions and mental state. The full article is available for free on the internet, and includes several very clear tables listing what might lead to positive mental state, and what might lead to negative mental state, and why. For example, in Figure 2 of the article, the nutritional inadequacy of restricted water intake leads to thirst (negative affect), and of excessive water intake leads to water intoxication (negative affect). Whereas the nutritional opportunity to drink correct amounts of water leads to the positive affect of wetting / quenching pleasures of drinking. It would be well worth your time, if you are interested in what your animal might see as good or bad, clicking on this link and looking through the figures.

You can access the full article for free here.

Mellor, D.J.; Beausoleil, N.J.; Littlewood, K.E.; McLean, A.N.; McGreevy, P.D.; Jones, B.; Wilkins, C. The 2020 Five Domains Model: Including Human–Animal Interactions in Assessments of Animal Welfare. Animals 2020, 10, 1870.

Simple Summary

This review outlines the latest in a succession of updates of the Five Domains Model, which, at each stage, incorporated contemporary verified scientific thinking of relevance to animal welfare assessment. The current update includes, within the structure of the Model, specific guidance on how to evaluate the negative and/or positive impacts of human behaviour on animal welfare. Persons whose actions may be evaluated include, but are not limited to, livestock handlers, owners of draught animals, veterinary care staff, pound/shelter staff, zoo-keepers, wildlife managers, hunters, researchers, companion animal owners, owners of sport/recreational animals, animal trainers and service animal handlers. Situations where human–animal interactions may have negative welfare impacts include: when animals have had little or no prior human contact, when human presence adds to already threatening circumstances, when human actions are directly unpleasant, threatening and/or noxious, when humans’ prior actions are remembered as being aversive or noxious and when the actions of bonded humans cause unintended harms. In contrast, situations where human–animal interactions may have positive welfare impacts include: when the companionable presence of humans provides company and feelings of safety, when humans provide preferred foods, tactile contacts and/or training reinforcements, when humans participate in enjoyable routine activities or in engaging variable activities, when the presence of familiar humans is calming in threatening circumstances and when humans act to end periods of deprivation, inhibition or harm. The explicit delineation within the Model of the potential impacts of human interactions on the welfare of animals enhances the Model’s utility. Additional updates in this latest version are also explained.


Throughout its 25-year history, the Five Domains Model for animal welfare assessment has been regularly updated to include at each stage the latest authenticated developments in animal welfare science thinking. The domains of the most up-to-date Model described here are: 1 Nutrition, 2 Physical Environment, 3 Health, 4 Behavioural Interactions and 5 Mental State. The first four domains focus attention on factors that give rise to specific negative or positive subjective experiences (affects), which contribute to the animal’s mental state, as evaluated in Domain 5. More specifically, the first three domains focus mainly on factors that disturb or disrupt particular features of the body’s internal stability. Each disturbed or disrupted feature generates sensory inputs which are processed by the brain to form specific negative affects, and these affects are associated with behaviours that act to restore the body’s internal stability. As each such behaviour is essential for the survival of the animal, the affects associated with them are collectively referred to as “survival-critical affects”. In contrast, Domain 4, now named Behavioural Interactions, focusses on evidence of animals consciously seeking specific goals when interacting behaviourally with (1) the environment, (2) other non-human animals and (3) as a new feature of the Model outlined here, humans. The associated affects, evaluated via Domain 5, are mainly generated by brain processing of sensory inputs elicited by external stimuli. The success of the animals’ behavioural attempts to achieve their chosen goals is reflected in whether the associated affects are negative or positive. Collectively referred to as “situation-related affects”, these outcomes are understood to contribute to animals’ perceptions of their external circumstances. These observations reveal a key distinction between the way survival-critical and situation-related affects influence animals’ aligned behaviours. The former mainly reflect compelling motivations to engage in genetically embedded behavioural responses, whereas the latter mainly involve conscious behavioural choices which are the hallmarks of agency. Finally, numerous examples of human–animal interactions and their attendant affects are described, and the qualitative grading of interactions that generate negative or positive affect is also illustrated.

© Sue Palmer, The Horse Physio 2021

Treating your horse with care, connection, curiosity, and compassion

March 22, 2022
Sue Palmer