‘One Welfare’ is the concept that animal welfare depends on and influences human welfare and environmental sustainability . This considers mental health as well as physical health and is thus an extension of the One Health concept. In practice, this concept calls for veterinarians and related animal services such as trainers, an animal’s owner, environmental scientists and human psychiatrists to collaborate and share expertise in order to care for the welfare of both animals and their owners.
Why is One Welfare important?
As an extension of One Health, this concept applies not only to zoonotic diseases and food safety, but also many other areas, for example, animal cruelty reporting, farmer and animal professional mental welfare programs, biodiversity conservation and wildlife management programs, emergency evacuation protocols, and climate change.
Climate change and animal and human welfare
A key focus of One Welfare is climate change. Climate change is affected by many things we do in everyday life and also affects us, the environment and the animals around us in day-to-day life. With climate change causing more extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and bushfires, the welfare of animals and people is under threat. For example, wildlife can lose their habitats, pets and their owners can lose their homes, and pollutants in the air from burning fossil fuels, and bushfires can lead to breathing problems in both animals and their owners. Examples of the implications of climate change for both human and animal welfare include:
The need to make agricultural practices more sustainable.
One of the main contributors to climate change is land-clearing to make space for livestock grazing land, which reduces the number of trees that can absorb carbon dioxide. This leads to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and more of a warming effect. It is therefore important for those involved in the farming industry (farmers, veterinarians, agricultural departments) to find ways to make farming more sustainable but we also need to safeguard animal welfare .
Increased respiratory and heat stress problems in animals and people.
Climate extremes will lead to more frequent and longer heat waves. Companion animals may develop heat stress and difficulty breathing. This is particularly true for brachycephalic breeds which already have an impaired ability to breathe. Farmed animals and wildlife will also experience these effects at high temperatures. See these Knowledgebase articles on managing heat stress in companion and farmed animals.
Poor air quality, especially during bushfires, can also add to this problem by causing damage to an animal’s airways and further impairing their ability to breathe.
It is important to try and increase the sustainability of all of our practices in order to reduce the effect of climate change on our collective welfare. See the Knowledgebase article on ‘How can climate change affect animal welfare?’ for more information.
One Welfare has the potential to improve the collective welfare of animals, humans and the environment in a vast number of applications.
Specific examples of other issues that could benefit from the One Welfare approach beyond climate change include:
It is more likely that if a family pet is a victim of violence, other members of the family are currently being, or will eventually also be, harmed. Shelter employees or veterinary staff may be the first to notice signs of violence if an animal is brought in with suspicious injuries. It is important for them to cross-report their suspicions to child protection services and social workers to make sure the other members of the family are protected from potential harm. Conversely, human services should report suspicions of domestic violence to animal welfare officers so they can move to protect the animals in the household .
Animal hoarding is a recognised mental illness in which people are compelled to take in more animals than they can adequately care for. By definition, the hoarder does not realise the severity of the situation. Urine, faeces, hair and often dead animals will accumulate over time and cause very unsanitary conditions that affect the welfare of both the animals and the hoarder. Animal welfare services may be the first to be notified about the situation and be able to rescue animals. However, it is important for them to also notify human health services, because without treatment of this mental condition, the person is likely to start hoarding again and live with poor mental health and poor welfare .
Chronic and zoonotic illnesses in companion animals
Chronic illness in your pet can take a lot of time and effort to treat. Often it involves several different medications given several times a day and regular check-ups with your veterinarian. You may also notice your pet progressively having less energy and less interest in the things that usually excite them. All the while, you worry about your pet’s declining quality of life. This often has a negative impact on the owner’s mental health over time. It is important for veterinarians to recognise this in their clients and refer them to mental health services if needed. If owners are receiving the support that they need and are healthy and resilient they will be able to take better care of their pet .
The viability of the agricultural industry and its effect on farmer welfare
Farmers rely on the productivity of their animals to make a living and are often under constant financial pressure. Improved animal welfare through gentle handling of farmed animals and increased opportunities for the animals to express natural behaviours has been shown to increase animal productivity. Farmers who take good care of their animals often feel better about themselves as well. However, improved welfare may be costly to achieve due to needing more staff, larger land and remodelling their infrastructure. It is important for the farmer’s welfare to strike a balance between the economic viability of their production and the welfare of their animals. It is important that veterinarians and agricultural officials assist farmers and make sure they are receiving mental health support if they need it .
Zoonotic illnesses are those that can be passed from animals to humans. This is more thoroughly covered in our article on ‘What is One Health?’. The effective management of zoonotic disease avoids or minimises the risks to the health and welfare of both animals and people.
Breaking the ‘cycle of abuse’ by introducing animal training programs in prison settings 
Prisoners often feel socially isolated and lose their sense of purpose in incarceration. The reasons behind their incarceration also often revolves around a cycle of violence, where they had a violent upbringing which they then go on to replicate as adults. Animal training programs aim to teach them to train a rescue dog through positive reinforcement techniques, training their ability to show compassion. This training also aims to give them a purpose and a skill they can use after their release, and increase their social interaction with animals who do not hold any prejudice towards them and appreciate their attention. The dogs often come from similarly violent backgrounds and benefit greatly from positive interaction with humans .
Development of disaster evacuation/relief protocols that include animals
There are recognised benefits of owners remaining with their animals during disasters. People take emergencies more seriously and are more likely to evacuate if they have the duty of responsibility over an animal. Conversely, animals are less likely to be impacted if they are evacuated with their owners rather than being left in the path of danger. It is therefore important for evacuation centres to cater to animals and for you to include your pet in your emergency evacuation plan . See the Knowledgebase article on ‘What should I consider if I need to evacuate my pet in a natural disaster?’ for more information.
Management of wild animal populations
Kangaroos and wallabies are currently killed to prevent damage to crops and farm infrastructure in Australia. In most states, this does not have to be thoroughly justified. Anyone is also permitted to shoot these animals, meaning they can often be killed inhumanely. More thorough legislation is required to make sure kangaroos and the impact they have on their environment can be managed humanely .
Mental welfare of wildlife carers
With more extreme weather threatening our environment, including droughts, bushfires and floods, wildlife will be injured and will also struggle to find food and water and to care for their young. This means more injured, underfed, dehydrated wildlife or abandoned young will need to be taken into care by wildlife carers. Wildlife carers already experience high workloads, financial stress and emotional stress from the important work they do. Wildlife carers’ welfare impacts how well they can look after the wildlife in their care. Increased financial support and mental health support could greatly benefit the outcomes for both wildlife and their carers .
Community health programs for pet owners
The bond between owners and their pets can decrease social isolation, increase a person’s sense of purpose and bring joy to someone’s life. This is especially true for more socially isolated groups such as elderly people or people struggling with homelessness. However, these circumstances can also make it difficult for these people to give their pets adequate care. Programs such as the RSPCA NSW’s Community Aged Care program aim to support people’s ability to give adequate care to their pet within their home and create welfare for both the owner and their pet.
What will it take to achieve a One Welfare goal?
Effective implementation of the One Welfare approach requires cross disciplinary collaboration and cross-reporting, for example, between:
- veterinary and shelter staff;
- child protection or social work agencies;
- human psychiatrists and health services; and
- many more public service governmental department, such as
- emergency services departments;
- environmental protection agencies;
- departments of industries
This could come in the form of formal cross-reporting avenues, advisory committees with a representative from each party, and agencies with officers trained in several of these fields.
Canada was recently the first country to form a One Welfare working group to develop recommendations for applying One Welfare in agriculture. It would be beneficial for a similar proposal be introduced in Australia for both agriculture and private practice. Some of the recommendations made included:
For wildlife carers, it would be beneficial to see more government funding of wildlife rescue groups so that they can help financially support wildlife carers in the important work they do.
What can I do to apply this concept?
- Write to your local MP about mandating cross-reporting
- Complete Mental Health First Aid training to help identify people in your life who work with or own animals who may need help
- Learn about the RSPCA’s community programs and how they could help those around you who work with or own pets
- Learn more about One Welfare. For more information, see the website One Welfare World; or, if you are a veterinary student, you may be interested in an online interactive course.
: Pinillos RG et al (22 October 2016) One Welfare – a platform for improving human and animal welfare. Veterinary Record. Doi:10.1136/vr.i5470
: National Farmed Animal Health and Welfare Council (January 2019) Enhancing Canada’s Agricultural Well-Being Through a One Welfare Approach (accessed on Jan 13 2020).
: Becker F, French L (22 December 2004) Making the links: child abuse, animal cruelty and domestic violence. Child Abuse Review 13(6):399-414. Doi.org/10.1002/car.878 (accessed on Jan 15 2020)
: Lockwood R (September 2018) animal hoarding: The challenge for mental health, law enforcement, and animal welfare professionals. Behavioral Sciences & the Law 36(4). Doi:10.1002/bsl.2373
: Spitznagel MB et al (2017) Caregiver burden in owners of a sick companion animal: a cross-sectional observation study. Veterinary Record 181: 321.
: Englefield B et al (2019) The Demography and Practice of Australians Caring for Native Wildlife and the Psychological, Physical and financial Effects of Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release of Wildlife on the Welfare of Carers. Animals 9(1127). doi:10.3390/ani9121127