Skip to main content

The Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare

Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years of work within zoos.

To you and me it is probably obvious. We have a cat or dog or some other exotic 'pet' at home. We care for it. It is our responsibility. The caring means that we want that animal to be both happy and healthy. Even if you don't accept the anthropomorphisms, it is in your interest to have a trouble-free animal.

The Basic Animal Rights or Freedoms

Few think beyond the 'pet' concept, but all animals deserve consideration whether they are in the home, the yard, the farm, the zoo, the laboratory, the pet shop, the shopping mall or, to a degree, in the wild. As civilised people, we should/must give consideration and respect to those creatures we share our planet with.

It really doesn't matter what your culture is or how you were educated or even what the accepted norm is in your country. If the manner in which you treat your animals is wrong, it is wrong no matter how you try to excuse it. Wrong as it may be, it is a problem that needs addressing through education and regulation plus just a bit of condemnation to get things moving.

The Five Freedoms are logical, they are common sense and they should be what you use to gauge the quality of care and professionalism in a zoo, a farm or wherever animals are kept. It does not matter if the animals are being bred for sale or slaughter: they deserve to have their needs met at all times.

The Five Freedoms

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from discomfort
  3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  4. Freedom to express normal behavior
  5. Freedom from fear and distress

In recent years there has been a move away from the Five Freedoms to the Five Domains. There is little to choose between the two so whatever you are most comfortable with.


1. Freedom From Hunger and Thirst

It really is obvious isn't it? Nobody wants to be hungry or underfed or to worry if there will be food that day. A correctly balanced diet is essential. When you want a drink you want access to clean drinking water available. Drinking water should be freely available to all animals at all times.

2. Freedom From Discomfort

Discomfort covers a multitude of sins. No animal wants to feel the cold or to have the sun beating down on it relentlessly. It wants somewhere to retreat to, a place to rest in comfort.

Comfort is widely neglected throughout Asia where the Evil Philippine Dog Cage is almost a standard for dogs in pet shops and at home. Sadly because these cages are believed to be okay for dogs the torture is applied to other animals too. These cages are uncomfortable for a dog to live in. The wire bottoms causes pain to their feet ALL of the time. They are unnatural and cruel.

3. Freedom From Pain, Injury, and Disease

Nobody wants to be sick or injured or feel pain. Animals are no different. We are supposed to be the intelligent ones, the 'thinking animals'. We have to ensure that animals under our care are not exposed to injury, disease or pain. A preventative medicine policy which includes vaccination and parasite control should be in place.

Animals mask pain and disease but professional, knowledgeable staff see through that mask.

4. Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour

A cramped cage will not allow normal behaviour to be expressed so available space is a consideration, always bearing in mind that when considering territory, quality of space is more important than quantity. A mate—or companionship of animals of the same species—is important and particularly within a breeding programme.

A well-thought-out and managed enrichment programme needs to be in place and religiously adhered to.

5. Freedom From Fear and Distress

Within a zoo setting, both fear and stress can be eliminated by cage structure and design. The comfort zone or flight distance is well known for many species. Animal enclosures should be big enough or so designed to allow animals to get away. They don't want the distress of disturbance whilst mating, sleeping, or delivering, rearing or nursing young. Mental abuse is as bad as physical abuse.


Five very simple points. Easy to remember, easy to consider. The Five Freedoms overlap a little, but that is natural—and it is nature that in many ways we are trying to imitate.

If you believe your zoo or pet shop is missing the point, please send them the link to this article.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


Ed Cummings on March 21, 2014:

Hi everyone- To follow on from Lexi's comment And here is a bit on human rights- Its my first time commenting on here, not sure if its important but I am an animal science graduate from the UK.

Dubuquedogtrainer from Dubuque, Iowa on March 28, 2012:

Voted up - good hub!

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on January 17, 2011:

ttrash - Ha Ha.....but I know exactly what you meaN. tAKE CARE.

ttrash from Australia on January 17, 2011:

During animal handling lessons, I've picked up a sixth freedom; that is freedom from uneducated handlers!

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on December 20, 2010:

crazybeanrider - Thank you. I wish more people would read it.

Boo McCourt from Washington MI on December 20, 2010:

Wonderful and touching hub.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on April 21, 2010:

Granny's House - Thank you for stopping by.

Granny's House from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time on April 21, 2010:

Peter, another great hub. As always I enjoyed reading it.

Jenny-Anne on March 07, 2010:

done! thanks.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on March 07, 2010:

Thanks Jenny-Anne, I would be delighted to have a link from the Irish Seal Sanctuary Facebook Page.

Jenny-Anne on March 07, 2010:

Hi Peter - great going with the five feedoms - a really useful summary for wildlife! I like the team building enrichment idea too. It would be a fun way for kids to learn about wild behaviour. Would you mind if I posted this link on the Irish Seal Sanctuary facebook page?

Lexi on November 26, 2009:

The Five Freedoms originated from the Farm Animal Welfare Council in the UK around 30 years ago in response to the ever increasing intensity of animal production for food. Nowadays they are applied to most animals kept in captivity. Great article, I especially like the enrichment vids!

topgunjager from Sunnyvale, CA on November 16, 2009:

they'll eat them regardless how they treat them.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on November 14, 2009:

topgunjager - The people I have met that treat dogs with the most kindness and love in the Philippines are the people who eat them.

topgunjager from Sunnyvale, CA on November 13, 2009:

Sad how they treat dogs in the Philippines. The evil dog cage that you metioned is not really that common. Dogs in the Philippines are tied with chains around their neck in front or at the back of the house and are almost never given baths and I think it's safe to say that 100% of them are flea infested, it sucks.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on November 12, 2009:

Thank you - DRG Da Real Grinc. I am pleased.

Felix J Hernandez from All over the USA on November 12, 2009:

Great article and videos. I learned.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on November 11, 2009:

i scribble - I daresay the 5 freedoms were a human issue before they ever became an animal one. Certainly they were recognised by animal groups thirty years ago. They are a big subject from the point of view of both culture and religion. Different nationalities see things differently. People in my little corner of Thailand used to look at me very oddly when I rescued frogs and toads from the road, talked to cats and befriended the street dogs. Now if there is an animal 'problem' they call me instead of killing first. Mind you I notice they are all becoming kinder to animals. Some always were of course but others I have given them cause to think.

I will admit though to having closed my eyes to some terrible sights while I have been travelling. Sometimes it is just not possible to do anything. I have seen people suffering, dying, even dead (which is a blessing) in the streets and, sorry as I am, it is the animals I have most sympathy more.

i scribble on November 10, 2009:

I like this Hub on the needs and rights of animals. Who came up with these 5 essential freedoms. Do they come from the zoo community? Although most Americans and maybe Western Europe, Canadians,etc. would say our pets are part of the family, I think we still have a ways to go on quality of life issues. I still see dogs on chains, and many backyard dogs who get little attention beyond being fed. Even when the '5 freedoms' are respected, I think so many pets are lonesome and bored. I love the enrichment program idea for zoo animals and think pets need enrichment programs at home as well.

dohn121 from Hudson Valley, New York on November 09, 2009:

You could not have put it better, Peter. I'm in total disagreement. As always, your compassion for animals shines through here. Thank you.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on November 09, 2009:

Thank you Aya Katz - The Five Freedoms from an animal point of view made their first appearance about 30 years ago. I wonder if the 'human rights' were borrowed from the animal rights or whether the human rights were enshrined in all our great political documents and just ignored.

Aya Katz from The Ozarks on November 09, 2009:

Peter Dickinson, I am glad you wrote this hub to express what most people feel about animal rights in captivity, and specifically what zoo people believe. Interestingly enough, these same rights that you list are rights that human rights activists are seeking to claim for human beings the world over. I'll copy your list here again:

The Five Freedoms

1. Freedom from hunger and thirst

2. Freedom from discomfort

3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease

4. Freedom to express normal behaviour

5. Freedom from fear and distress

These are perhaps the rights that prisoners should have or the rights that should be accorded to slaves. They are, however, not rights that free men or free animals have.

In nature or in the free economy, we have to face hunger and thirst and to find ways to satisfy them ourselves. In nature or in the free economy, we are not free from fear or discomfort, but we are free to find a way to alleviate them.

I would love to see more animals (including humans) given the dignity and freedom of providing for themselves.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on November 09, 2009:

You are right bingskee it surely does but as humans (most of us anyway) we have the freedom to run away, to speak and complain, divorce and much more. Animals are 'trapped' within the limitations their owners care to give.

bingskee from Quezon City, Philippines on November 09, 2009:

the five freedoms. it especially applies to the homo sapiens.