Much consideration of animal welfare issues, as well as the bulk of welfare legislation, is closely related to context, with clear distinction between defined responsibilities towards farm-, laboratory-, companion- and wild animals. It has however been recognised that such distinction leads to inconsistencies, in that it might lead to different welfare management practices for the same rat (for example) as a pet, laboratory animal or pest. We suggest that if legal provisions recognize animals as having moral status, then that implies certain responsibilities towards the animal that cannot be context-dependent. Although we argue the moral responsibility to consider an animal’s welfare is context-independent, we suggest that the requirement to take action (and the form of that action) may alter with context. From a biological perspective, we argue that there exists an obligation to take action to address potential welfare problems only when a challenge exceeds the animal’s adaptive capacity, such that it cannot adequately respond by changes of its behaviour. The obligation to intervene further depends on whether or not there are practical (and economically feasible) options available for mitigation. Beyond this, additional constraints may be posed by anthropocentric aims or objectives, where any suffering may be adjudged avoidable (in theory), but necessary (because of specific human interests). Finally, whatever may be determined necessary or unavoidable by the actual manager or agent himself/herself, such judgement is inevitably subjective and possibly subject to self-interest. Thus any decision must be further evaluated within the context of what is considered by a wider society to be (morally) acceptable or unacceptable.