Scottish Animal Welfare Commission: statement on animal sentience

Statement on animal sentience from the SAWC.

The role of the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission (SAWC) is to provide advice to the Scottish Government on animal welfare, including, specifically, consideration of how Scottish Government policies take account of animal sentience, the wider welfare needs of animals and the type of improvements that could be made.

SAWC defines animal sentience as: ‘the ability to have physical and emotional experiences, which matter to the animal, and which can be positive and negative’.

Animal welfare is relevant to animals that have this ability. 

SAWC defines animal welfare as: ‘the mental and physical state of an individual as it experiences and engages with its environment’.

Thus, a sentient animal can experience, for example, pain and fear, and also comfort and enjoyment. Promoting animal welfare means increasing the positive experiences that an animal has and reducing the negative experiences. We recognise that sentient animals may have different cognitive and emotional capabilities, which means that they have different needs and wants.

Determining whether an animal is sentient is complex and relies on balancing the weight of evidence from neurological, behavioural, anatomical, physiological and cognitive studies.  We consider that the animals for which the threshold for sentience has been exceeded, and thus for whom a consideration of animal welfare is important, include: vertebrates (mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians), cephalopods (e.g. octopus and squid) and decapod crustaceans (e.g. crab and lobster). We accept that sentience and consideration of animal welfare within a species will vary with the individual’s stage of development. 

Other species may be included within a definition of sentience in the future as evidence accumulates for 1) the species being capable of experience, and 2) that those experiences matter to the animal.

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