ABVS - New Specialty: American College of Animal Welfare

Ensuring good animal welfare has been intuitively recognized as a critical goal of veterinary medical practice since its inception. However, during the past twenty years, animal welfare has expanded exponentially as a distinct discipline of veterinary medicine. In recognition of this expansion of knowledge, the Organizing Committee of the newest veterinary specialty organization—the American College of Animal Welfare (ACAW)—believes it is time to begin offering advanced animal welfare training, education, and board certification to ensure the veterinary profession continues to lead in advancing animal welfare knowledge for the benefit of the public and the profession.

The desire for veterinary leadership in animal welfare science and ethics is not unique to the organizing committee of the ACAW. Indeed, the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists has an established Animal Welfare Chapter that provides veterinarians with opportunities for training and certification reflecting a detailed knowledge of, and special competence in, animal welfare across all species. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons also recognizes animal welfare as an area of specialization and awards credentials to those meeting its requirements. And, animal welfare was identified in June 2006 by the Executive Board of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) as one of the top five critical issues affecting the veterinary profession both in the United States and globally.

Veterinarians educated to an advanced level in all aspects of animal welfare science and ethics will be uniquely positioned to step forward to provide the public, general veterinary practitioners, and other stakeholders with accurate information, advice, and advanced expertise concerning animal welfare questions and challenges— just as other board-certified veterinary specialists have done for decades on animal and public health issues.

Much like other specialties, the field of animal welfare comes with its own scientific literature base. The college has identified more than ten peer-reviewed journals that publish animal welfare science exclusively, with an additional 90 plus journals publishing a substantial number of animal welfare-related scientific papers. In addition to the scientific journals, there are a number of ethical journals that devote considerable space to animal welfare concerns. And, there are multiple graduate programs around the world that are currently educating scientists in this field.

The new American College of Animal Welfare will offer certification to veterinarians successfully completing advanced education and training to become animal welfare specialists—in the same way previously established recognized veterinary specialty organizations, such as the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, American College of Veterinary Microbiologists, and the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, offer certification to veterinarians demonstrating special competence in these disciplines after completion of advanced education and training.

The Organizing Committee of the ACAW recognizes that animal welfare interest and knowledge cuts across many disciplines of veterinary medicine. Thus, expertise was solicited from the breadth of the profession as the American College of Animal Welfare was formed. This breadth in training and educational requirements, as well as a focus on best practices used to develop the new animal welfare certification examination, will help ensure veterinarians who become ACAW diplomates have the expertise to understand the full scope of animal welfare issues. Board-certified veterinarians, specializing in animal welfare, will thus be able to not only continue to position the veterinary profession to be a major part of the total picture of animal welfare but will also advance the profession's understanding of this important discipline. In addition, ACAW diplomates will be invaluable in the public policy arena. Animal welfare-related proposals cover topics as diverse as guardianship, confinement of pets in automobiles, housing (from dogs to laying hens to elephants), and reporting of animal abuse and domestic violence. As these issues arise, policy makers look to veterinarians for guidance. It is important that veterinary specialists with advanced training and education in animal welfare be available to interpret the scope of legislative issues impacting animal welfare decisions (and the stakeholders in those decisions) so that responses can be insightful, accurate and concise.


To find out more about the American College of Animal Welfare, please visit the following site:

To find out more about AVMA recognized veterinary specialty organizations and board certification visit the AVMA webpage on the topic.