Behaviour & Welfare

Understanding and improving animal welfare
Laboratory animal

Animal welfare is a topic of great interest in our society. Everyone agrees that we should treat animals with care and respect. At the same time, the way we regard an animal strongly depends on the context in which it is held, as we tend to approach companion animals, production animals and laboratory animals quite differently. 

The research programme Behaviour & Welfare strives to improve the welfare of animals in our society, by investigating emotional and cognitive processes that contribute to the adaptive capacities of animals. Importantly, we think that animal welfare research should be based on understanding biological and behavioural mechanisms that determine animal welfare, independent of the animal's context.

Louk Vanderschuren
Investigating emotional and cognitive processes in animals is essential for understanding animal welfare
Research groups
Social play behaviour

Behavioural Neuroscience
Positive emotions like reward and motivation and their modulation by cognitive control mechanisms guide adaptive behaviour that underlies animal welfare. To better understand these phenomena, we study the neural mechanisms of social behaviour, impulsive behaviour and addictive behaviour. Read more

Anxiety and adaptation

Anxiety and Adaptation
An individual is in a positive welfare state when it has the freedom to display normal behavioural patterns that allow the animal to adapt to the demands of the prevailing environmental circumstances and enable it to reach a state that it perceives as positive. Read more

Emotions and cognition in farrm animals

Ontogeny of Emotion/Cognition
Adaptability of farm animals is challenged by industrial farming, where aspects of management and housing practices may impair animal welfare. To be able to make evidence-based decisions aimed at safeguarding and improving farm animal welfare in farming practice, we need to understand the needs and capabilities of these animals. Read more


16 July 2019
Daniela Salvatori and Beerend Hierck have received have received a 22k grant from the Gratama foundation.
Universiteit Utrecht, Forensische Diergeneeskunde
10 July 2019
Vets are increasingly being asked to provide their expertise when animals die unexpectedly.
3 April 2019
Dr. Jan van der Valk has won the Björn Ekwall Memorial Foundation Award 2019.
18 December 2018
What are holidays to humans, are often days filled with fears and stress for pets.
FCS-free Database
4 July 2018
The 3Rs-Centre Utrecht Life Sciences has developed an E-learning module on humane endpoints in animal research and veterinary practice.