Suffering in Non-Human Animals

Perspectives from Animal Welfare Science and Animal Welfare Law

  • Peter Fordyce


The paper argues that suffering is an aversive/negative subjective mental state originally inferred in animals, by humans, using an anthropomorphic interpretation of an animal’s situation, and the consequences of that situation on the animal’s behaviour or physical state. Over the last half century, developments in the field of animal welfare science have provided a substantial body of data about what actually matters to animals, and how their responses to adverse events manifest, by examining their preferences, and measuring changes in their anatomy, physiology and behaviour over a range of states of welfare – from good to very poor welfare.

Data from animal welfare science can provide an objective reference point for data collected and used as evidence in criminal proceedings for un-necessary suffering. Animal welfare science can therefore assist the courts by providing objective criteria on which the premise of an argument regarding whether or not an animal has suffered can be assessed, rather than relying on conjectural opinion based on well meaning, but often uninformed, anthropomorphically driven emotions. Animals, like humans who are incapable of verbally communicating their mental state and preferences by virtue of age, or physical or mental infirmity, cannot verbally communicate whether they are enduring an aversive/negative subjective mental state. Animal welfare science provides an indirect, but rational and robust mechanism to infer what an animal’s subjective state was/is in relation to what has happened to it, by examining scientific data relating to its physiology, pathology and behaviour, and considering this in the context of published animal welfare science data derived from animals in situations they are known to find aversive, and would choose not to endure. The paper explores some of the concepts and data on which animal welfare science is predicated, additionally examining difficulties that can arise with use of language in this field, and in animal welfare legislation.

How to Cite
FORDYCE, Peter. Suffering in Non-Human Animals. Global Journal of Animal Law, [S.l.], v. 5, n. 1, p. 12-53, sep. 2017. ISSN 2341-8168. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 24 july 2024.