Let's Get Down To The Basics, Shall We?


What does animal welfare mean to you? Do you feel that an animal which gets all its adequate needs like food, water and shelter is having good welfare? Indeed animal welfare is an extremely subjective issue which can be interpreted in a million different ways and a good example is when some people think that killing animals for consumption is bad animal welfare whereas some do not.

Thus in this article I will attempt to clear up some misconceptions regarding animal welfare as well as guide the general public as to the basic principles on which any interpretation of welfare should be based on. Before I continue with the principles, one needs to understand the distinction between animal welfare and animal rights as there can be a blurred line between these two terms. Simply put, animal welfare is the maintenance of the physical and physiological well-being of animals. On the other hand, animal rights is the idea that the most basic interests of non-human animals should be afforded the same consideration as the similar interests of human beings.

So once you have made that distinction, you can make a choice as to what kind of person you are. Are you a welfarist? Or are you a rightist? Or are you someone who is on the fence? No matter what kind of person you are, we can all agree that the main principles of animal welfare is to the benefit of the animals and to an acceptable degree, allow the animal to live comfortably and free of overt physical, physiological or mental pain.

The first principle that animal welfare is based on is Freedom from Hunger and Thirst. Of course, this is one of the most primal and basic needs of any animal. It is obviously cruel to starve a cat or dog to death and have it dying of dehydration, but keep in mind that giving an animal just any food does not suffice. In the pet world we relate mostly to dogs and cats, and many times I meet people who tell me they feed their dogs only plain white rice. Yes, the dog is free from hunger, and yes the dog is free from thirst, but is the dogís nutritional requirements met? Wouldnít the dog suffer from other malnutrition diseases in the long run if all it eats is just white rice? So, here we can see a clear example as to how different the interpretations of welfare can be and it is important to remember that this principle must be species specific so that the animalís hunger is satiated but with a diet that meets or at least attempts to meet all its nutritional needs.

The next principle is the Freedom from Discomfort. Now this is a tricky one. Many times people think that providing a place for the animal to live in is good enough. But does the animal have adequate space to turn around and lie down? Are its paws hurting from the grills of the cage floor? What about shelter from the sun and rain? Many times owners tend to leave their animals unattended outside of the house without ensuring that the animal has adequate shelter from the elements of nature. Just imagine yourself stuck under the hot Malaysian sun without any shelter!

The Freedom from Pain, Injury and Disease is related to all the other freedoms as the animal should be kept as healthy as possible through any means either by its diet, housing or healthcare regime. Of course, animals will occasionally fall sick but any disease or injury should be prevented as much as possible and if the animal does fall sick, then appropriate medical treatment should be sought for it. This is usually where the issue of finances come in. Many times, owners do not vaccinate their animals or bring their animals for yearly check-ups and boosters as they save some money by doing so. But think about it, wouldnít it be cheaper to prevent, rather than cure? Of course, everything must be done in consideration as to what the owner can afford but the owner or caretaker of the animal should try their best to minimize the discomfort of the animal.

Imagine a dog which is fed nutritious food and has plenty of access to water and shelter and given nice comfortable bedding. It gets it annual vaccinations and its owner takes it to the vet when it gets sick. But this dog is kept in its cage all day long, with no interaction with its owners and no space to run around. Do you think this is a good life for a dog? The Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour is defined as providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animalís own kind to allow it to do the things that it would naturally do.

Last but not the least is the Freedom from Fear and Distress. Imagine having a pet bird which is kept next to a catís cage. Every day the bird is subjected to mental torture as to whether or not it will be eaten by the cat. I donít know about you but that sounds like a Saw movie everyday to me. Not at all a situation any of us humans or animals would like to be in, donít you think?

These are just the basic theories in which I base most of my welfare opinions on. Of course, there will be lots of debate about how far these theories span and the personal abilities of each individual to care for the animals, but like every vertebrate, the animal welfare issue needs to have a backbone to rely on and this should be it.




What can I say about myself? Happy, optimistic, and absolutely in love with animals big or small, I'm just a person with a big heart and open mind.

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  1. avatar

    You are so very on the money on this piece. So many of us today are still unable to distinguish them (welfare and right) and more sadly, most of us are not capable of practicing them. I have a cat (she is languishing by my feet as Im typing this) and 2 dogs, both male named Bono and Ziggy adopted from my friend. Norma is dark grey and is going to be 2 next month. I found her hiding under my car when she was bout 2-3 weeks old. After a few futile attempts to ‘relocate’ her to a safer place before I drove off, a security guard whom had been observing what I was trying to do finally asked me to take her home with me. I looked at her then and knew that she was not likely going to make it out on her own as there was no other cats nearby and at the same, the responsibility I’d have to shoulder by bringing her home with me. As I travel much, I wonder if I’m able to care for her and how I would go about doing it. By now, I was kneeling down coaxing her to get out from underneath my car, again. She looked weak and under-nourished but immediately reminded me of the black cat I adopted when I was schooling back in England, which I named her after. Whether its karma, for one who is not at all religious, I must say many a good things have happened to me. I love her dearly inspite of her thinking that the entire universe revolves around her! She actually sleeps on her bed, on my bed. :)
    Anyways, back to what you were saying, I reckon the problem we have here (in Malaysia) is lack of understanding on how pets should be treated. Most of us are, I believe in one of these two categories when it comes to dogs; for security purpose or “eeeww, so-cute-I-must-have-one”. Although they meant well, they simply can’t understand dogs, especially the psychological part. Let’s be honest, most of us are not Cesar Milan or yourself. Not even close. Whilst reading your article, I immediately thought of my mum and dad. They do not dislike animals, but neither do they jump for joy when they encounter one. What we definitely need is more people who could understand pets like you do. Not even nearly as profound, but understand a little better and our world would surely be a better one as well.

    • avatar

      Dear Julian,

      Thank you for your comment and very glad to hear your thoughts on the article! Please do give a wet kiss and hug to Norma, Bono and Ziggy from me. :D


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