The primary responsibility of veterinarians is to the animals in their care, so veterinary students need to be aware of important issues and factual information relevant to animal welfare. Veterinarians have tended to concentrate on physical aspects of welfare, but also need to take account of mental aspects (including pain) and naturalness. A crucial first step in animal welfare education is to encourage students to examine the interactions between welfare science, ethics and policy. Scientific measures of welfare include physiological, immunological, behavioural, disease and productivity. Welfare ethics includes consideration of different ethical theories and of professional ethics. Understanding of policy involves awareness of legislation, codes of practice and farm assurance programmes. As well as utilising their education in their clinical practice, veterinarians may expect to have an important role in influencing policy and standards in the wider world. It is recommended that animal welfare should be taught as a clearly defined academic subject within the curriculum.