Key dairy cattle welfare problems and how RSPCA Assured helps

Key dairy cattle welfare problems and how RSPCA Assured helps

1 of X pages

Disease and poor-standard housing conditions are the main welfare problems suffered by dairy cows.

Many of the common health problems experienced by the modern dairy cow are due to the physical demands of milk production.

Historically breeding for high milk yields has meant that cows have got bigger and more productive, but in many cases housing and management systems haven’t grown to accommodate them.

Dairy cattle have better lives under the RSPCA Assured scheme

The RSPCA welfare standards - which have herd health and cow comfort at their heart - have to be met for milk to be labelled RSPCA Assured:

  • Cows must be provided with enough space and bedding to allow them to lie down and get up without injuring themselves


Common health problems


This is a painful condition and can cause suffering. It can be caused by poor nutrition, breeding or housing


Mastitis is inflammation of the udder. It can cause cause pain and discomfort and some cows become severely ill

  • They must also have environmental enrichment (eg cow brushes) they can use to groom and scratch themselves.

The RSPCA welfare standards for dairy cattle cover their entire lives, including when being transported.

The standards also have requirements covering health, diet, environment and care.

RSPCA Assured assessors and the RSPCA’s farm livestock officers check the welfare standards are being met.

Informed by scientific evidence and practical experience, the standards are much more detailed and strict than minimum legal requirements.

How you can help

Unfortunately RSPCA Assured labelled milk is not widely available.

You can help by asking supermarkets to stock it - and in the meantime look for organic milk.

The more people ask for RSPCA Assured products the more likely supermarkets are to stock them.

Want to know more?

You’ll find lots of information about the welfare of dairy cattle on the RSPCA website, including male dairy calves and long distance transport.


Did you know?

  • There are approximately 1.8 million dairy cows in the UK
  • The average UK dairy cow produces almost 14,000 pints of milk each year - that’s enough milk to fill 100 baths!
  • Cows ‘ruminate’ which means they regurgitate, re-chew and re-swallow partially digested food in order to aid digestion
  • The most common breed of dairy cow in the UK are the Holstein-/Friesian
  • Cattle spend around a third to a half of their day lying down