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Donald Broom attended Whitgift School and subsequently St. Catharine's College, Cambridge. He received his BA and MA degrees in zoology and Ph.D. degree in animal behaviour from Cambridge University, supervised by William Homan Thorpe. During his time as an undergraduate, he was a keen sportsman participating in squash and water-polo. He also represented the university and was nationally ranked in modern pentathlon, becoming a Blue and being elected to the Hawks' Club.
Previous academic positions include Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Reader at the University of Reading. Previous advisory roles include Scientific Advisor to the Council of Europe Standing Committee on the Welfare of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes (1987–2000), Chairman of the European Union Scientific Veterinary Committee (Animal Welfare Section – 1990–1997) and Member of the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council (1991–1999). He served three years as President of the St. Catharine's College, Cambridge and was elected a fellow of the Zoological Society of London in 1987. He was awarded a Sc.D. from Cambridge University in 2002. He retired as the Colleen Macleod Professor of Animal Welfare in 2009 but continues in his other roles as Vice-Chairman of European Food Safety Authority Panel on Animal Health and Welfare and Chairman of Working Group on Welfare of Animals during Land Animal Transport for the World Organization for Animal Health.
Broom is a research scientist and science populariser who has written many books and articles on ethology, animal welfare, and evolution, gives public lectures and broadcasts, as well as advising European political bodies on animal welfare science matters.
- 1990: George Fleming Prize (with P.F.J. Benham) awarded to the best paper in the British Veterinary Journal
- 1999: Honorary College Fellow: Myerscough College, University of Central Lancashire
- 2000: Honorary D.Sc: De Montfort University.
- 2001: Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals/British Society of Animal Science Award for innovation in animal welfare research
- 2001: Eurogroup Medal, Eurogroup for Animals, Brussels
- 2004: Professor Honoris Causa, Universidad del Salvador, Buenos Aires, Argentina
- 2005: Honorary Socio Corrispondanti, Accademia Peloritana dei Pericolanti, Messina, Italy
- 2005: Honorary Doctorate: Norwegian University of Life Sciences.
- 2007: Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Michael Kay Award
- Biology of Behaviour (1981)
- Farm Animal Behaviour and Welfare, with Andrew F. Fraser (1990)
- Stress and Animal Welfare with Kenneth G. Johnson (1993)
- The welfare of deer, foxes, mink and hares subjected to hunting by humans: a review (2000) Evidence to the Burns Inquiry
- The Evolution of Morality and Religion (2003)
- Sentience and Animal Welfare (2014).
- Domestic Animal Behaviour and Welfare, with Andrew F. Fraser (2015), 5th edition.
- "Cambridge Veterinary School: Research investigators". University of Cambridge Veterinary School. Archived from the original on 4 January 2010. Retrieved 21 January 2010.
- "Glittering Prizes: Awards for Academics". The Times Higher Education. Retrieved 22 January 2010.
- "New Honorary Doctorates at UMB". Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Retrieved 22 January 2010.