What is meant by an animal's quality of life? Its feelings? Emotions? Wellbeing? Welfare? Happiness? All of these things? The term is not a new one for veterinary practitioners who use it to guide many day-to-day decisions on whether, say, to undertake a complex treatment or carry out euthanasia. Only recently, however, has the scientific community attempted to measure quality of life in companion and farm animals. The complexity of the subject was brought into sharp focus at a recent symposium organised jointly by the bva Ethics Committee and the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (ufaw), entitled ‘Quality of life: the heart of the matter’, which explored the subject from many angles. A clear message to emerge was that consensus on a definition of quality of life needs to be reached — not only in the interests of scientific rigour but from a very practical point of view in the light of the Animal Welfare Bill that is currently going through Parliament. A further message, specifically for the veterinary profession, was that the forthcoming animal welfare legislation has major implications that it needs to address.