Animal Welfare - An Introduction

By Vicky Propopapadaki, Tutor, ADL - Academy For Distance Learning on March 25, 2016 in Animals, Pets & Psychology | comments
What is animal welfare science?
The proper way animals ought to be treated has been a subject of debate since antiquity. It was not until the 20th century through that a science of animal welfare was developed. 

Simply put, the science of animal welfare is concerned with improving the health and well-being of animals in any situation. Animal welfare cannot be defined in strict terms though. This is mainly because the study of animal welfare encompasses many different disciplines and approaches. Also, what we consider to constitute good animal welfare now is different from what was considered to be good animal welfare in the past and this will, most likely, also change in the future. 

For the time being, scientists utilise a number of different methods to assess if an animal experiences positive welfare states. Some scientists, consider biological indicators such as good health, reproductive performance and productivity (the last two apply mainly to farm animals) to be of the utmost importance when assessing animal welfare. 

Another approach to assessing animal welfare takes into account affective states or feelings. This approach is based on the premise that animals are sentient beings, able to experience negative as well as positive affective states. Practically, an animal is thought to experience positive welfare when not only he/she does not suffer from pain, hunger, fear etc. but also when he/she derives pleasure from interacting with the environment, other animals and/or humans. 

Finally, many scientists assess animal welfare based on how natural the life an animal leads is. Such a life would allow the animal to perform important natural behaviours and live in an environment which has many similarities with the species’ natural environment.   

Usually, a combination of these approaches is used to assess the welfare of animals. 

Animal Welfare in everyday life
But what does animal welfare mean in real life? How can we ensure that animals under our care have lives worth living?
It is now widely recognised that humans have a duty of care towards animals. This duty of care is based on the Five Freedoms set by the Farm Animal Welfare Council. These are:

1. Freedom from hunger and thirst, by ready access to water and a diet to maintain health and vigour.
2. Freedom from discomfort, by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area. 
3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease, by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment. 
4. Freedom to express normal behaviour, by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and appropriate company of the animal’s own kind.
5. Freedom from fear and distress, by ensuring conditions and treatment, which avoid mental suffering.

These principles do not only apply to farm animals of course, but any animal under our care; they set the bare minimum we can do to ensure that animals under our care not only do not suffer but also lead pleasurable lives. 

Animal welfare is such a significant issue that most countries have legislation which regulates humans’ relationship with animals. For example, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 in England serves a twofold purpose: to prevent cruelty and promote a duty of care towards animals so that they can lead quality lives. 

Learning about animals
One way to ensure that animals under our care experience positive welfare is to learn more about them. For instance, by learning about animal behaviour we will be able to identify and fulfil the behavioural needs of animals better (we will discuss animal behaviour in more detail in future blog posts). ADL offers a course in Animal Behaviour and a range of courses in Animal Care which could help you understand and care better for the animals in your life, thus ensuring that they live healthier, happier lives. 

Farm Animal Welfare Council (2009) Farm Animal Welfare in Great Britain: Past, Present and Future (online) Available at  [Accessed 17 March 2016] (2006) Animal Welfare Act 2006 (online) Available at [Accessed 17 March 2016]