In this review, we discuss animal welfare as a complex and contested issue facing society and outline why collaborative, multi-stakeholder approaches are critical for effective policy development. Using the lens of wicked problems and drawing upon governance literature on policy networks, we identify important factors for working with the inherent complexity of animal welfare through the inclusion of various stakeholder perspectives. We present two case studies that illustrate policy network approaches to animal welfare and highlight the value of fostering collaboration among various stakeholder groups from the industry, community, research, and government sectors. We suggest that the influence of stakeholder networks will likely increase in coming years as newer forms of participatory governance become common. By understanding how collaborative stakeholder networks establish participatory governance, productive communication, and collective priorities, leaders in the field of animal welfare can more productively engage with stakeholders and achieve long-lasting improvements in animal welfare.