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Animal Welfare: Definition & Issues

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

We love our pets and want the best for them. But what about the other animals across the world? Learn about animal welfare and the key issues animal welfare activists campaign about. Take a quiz and see what you've learned.

What is Animal Welfare?

Humans are animals. Even though we don't think of ourselves as such, we evolved from the same natural world that other animals inhabit. But since we have consciousness and intelligence, many people would say that we have a responsibility to look after the members of the animal kingdom. Unfortunately humans do not always do a good job of this.

Animal welfare is the well-being of animals, and it is an area of activism, science, and political action. Animal welfare activists want to improve conditions for animals, especially animals that are reliant on human care. This includes pets, animals in zoos, animal use for testing, animals slaughtered for food, and, in some cases, wild animals that are affected by human actions.

Animal welfare is distinct from animal rights. While animal welfare focuses on our responsibility to look after animals properly, animal rights is the idea that animals have similar rights to humans as life-forms and that we shouldn't be using them for our own gain at all.

Issues in Animal Welfare

There are many issues of interest to animal welfare activists. Some of the most significant ones include the survival of wild species, living conditions of animals in zoos, humane practices in the food industry, and animal testing. Let's look at a few of these issues in depth.

Wildlife Conservation

The concern for the survival of wild species is called wildlife conservation, and involves preventing human impacts on wildlife ecosystems, breeding programs to repair damage already done, education, and engagement. Wildlife is threatened across the world because of humans. We destroy habitats, break them up in ways that damage migration routes, and change conditions causing the natural world to degrade through climate change, hunting and poaching, and pollution.

Pandas are targets of lots of breeding programs to save the species.
Pandas are targets of lots of breeding programs to save the species

Living Conditions and Treatment

The living conditions of animals in zoos is another part of animal welfare. Scientists continually research the conditions that animals need in order to be healthy, happy, and to mirror their lives in the wild. Very often that research suggests that the conditions in zoos are simply not acceptable and cause distress to animals.

Confined pigs
Confined pigs

The food industry is a source of a lot of concern as well. While some animal welfare activists are against killing animals for food at all, even those who have no problem with this recognize that the way animals are treated in the food industry is often extremely inhumane. Animals are killed in painful ways that cause panic, and this is after a short life trapped in tiny cages or enclosures.

People who are interested in animal welfare note that the least we can do is give animals a happy and comfortable life before we take that life away, and that it is our duty to make sure they are not given undue stress or harm during their lives.

Even free range hens are not always given much space.
Even free range hens are not always given much space

Animal Testing

Yet another issue is that of animal testing. Animal testing is where research is done on animals to test products for future use on humans. For example, various things such as drugs, medical treatments, cosmetics, and other chemicals are often tested on rats or other small animals to see if they're safe. This is done so that no humans are hurt or die in the development of these products. Unfortunately, the animals used can be hurt or die.

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