Animal Welfare vs Animal Rights

Society today struggles with the ongoing barrage of messaging utilising terminologies such as animal welfare, animal protection and animal rights. Each of these terms sound as if they are in the best interests of the animals and yet that could not be further from the truth. Of the three mentioned only ONE is in the best interests of the animals – which one? Animal Welfare. Animal welfare is animal care! Animal Rights and Animal Protection have the same outcome – no animal owned or kept in human care.

What is Animal Welfare?

Animal Care Australia’s definition of Animal Welfare recognises the World Organization for Animal Health’s definition*, with a few minor adjustments.


Animal welfare means the physical and mental state of an animal in relation to the conditions in which it lives and dies.

An animal experiences good welfare if the animal is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear and distress, and is able to express behaviours that are important for its physical and mental state.

How it is achieved:

Good animal welfare is achieved by following the 5 Freedoms. This requires disease prevention and appropriate veterinary care, shelter, management and nutrition, a stimulating and safe environment, humane handling and humane end of life. While animal welfare refers to the state of the animal, the treatment that an animal receives is covered by other terms such as animal care, animal husbandry, and humane treatment.

The 5 Freedoms:

  1. Freedom from hunger or thirst, by providing access to fresh water and an appropriate diet;
  2. Freedom from fear and distress, through appropriate treatment and surroundings;
  3. Freedom from discomfort, by providing appropriate environments in which to live;
  4. Freedom from pain, injury or disease, by prevention and rapid diagnosis and treatment;
  5. Freedom to express natural behaviour, by providing appropriate space, facilities, and social interactions with members of their own species.

Ideas about animal welfare began in ancient civilisations and exist in many religions and cultures today. Many countries incorporate some elements of animal protection in their laws.

Signs that an animal has a good state of welfare can include longevity, having low levels of disease, displaying normal behaviour, and reproducing normally.

Concerns about animal welfare are normally based on the idea that we should take steps to maximise the well-being of animals whenever and however we interact with them. This includes those we keep as pets, all animals in the wild, those we include for entertainment or research, and those that we breed for food.

Animal Care Australia recognises there are circumstances where the best welfare outcome for an animal is death.  Animal Care Australia supports the use of humane euthanasia where it is deemed an animal should no longer be made to suffer, or where it is impossible to secure a responsible and healthy living outcome.

What is Animal Rights?

It is Peter Singer’s work that has underpinned the Animal Rights movement since the 1970s. Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton and the University of Melbourne, is the author of the controversial book Animal Liberation, which asserts that animals’ interests should be given equal weight to those of humans. The book drew criticism upon its release in 1975 and remains controversial to this day.

Animal rights advocates believe humans should not make use of, own or benefit from animals. They strive for the immediate abolition of animal exploitation in any form.

Advocates of animal rights oppose the owning or keeping of all animals in captivity, including for food, entertainment, research, companionship, conservation or any other reason.

Some Animal Rights advocates, such as Ingrid Newkirk of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) believe immediate abolition is needed but is simply unrealistic. Instead, these advocates support the pursuit of incremental welfare reform as a means to eventually abolishing all animals in captivity. They endorse animal welfare because it facilitates a “springboard into animal rights.”

Animal Rights advocates use Animal Welfare to garner support for their beliefs. Their aim is to end the ownership and keeping of all animals in captivity.

Consequences of an Animal Rights philosophy include:

  • No breeding and killing animals for food, clothes or medicine.
  • No selective breeding for any reason other than the benefit of the animal.
  • No use of working animals – no guide dogs, no police horses, etc
  • No hunting.
  • No zoos, or use of animals in entertainment.
  • No pets or companion animals – currently utilising legislative changes to reduce the breeding and subsequently abolish the availability of pets
  • No sport involving animals.
  • No competitive animal competitions.
  • No research involving animals – now being re-framed as no animal experimentation.

Disappointingly, in Australia many major organisations responsible for animal welfare (such as the Australian Veterinary Association and RSPCA) do not recognise the difference between animal welfare and animal rights and their policies are now reflecting that lack of understanding. Unlike the American Veterinary Medical Association who have taken a formal position defining the difference between the two terminologies. They have gone so far as to label Animal Rights for what it truly is – Animal Extremism! In their detailed Policy on Animal Welfare and Animal Rights, they state that they cannot endorse the views of Animal Rights Extremist Groups. Here’s a quote from their policy:

Animal rights is a philosophical view and personal value characterized by statements by various animal rights groups. Animal welfare and animal rights are not synonymous terms. The AVMA wholeheartedly endorses and adopts promotion of animal welfare as official policy; however, the AVMA cannot endorse the philosophical views and personal values of animal rights advocates when they are incompatible with the responsible use of animals for human purposes, such as food, fiber, and research conducted for the benefit of both humans and animals.”

Animal Care Australia would welcome such recognition of the differences to be publicly shared in Australia.

* World Organization for Animal Health: