Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The Five Freedoms, which describe animals’ basic welfare needs, are a framework to guide animal care. The Five Freedoms were first developed for the care of livestock, but they apply to all animals under human care.
The Five Freedoms aren’t meant to be rigid, absolute standards; for example, it’s not biologically possible to completely eliminate hunger and thirst. The original Five Freedoms focused on reducing animals’ negative experiences. To reflect better understanding of animal welfare, the framework has been updated to include giving animals positive experiences in addition to limiting negative ones.
Meeting animals’ welfare needs helps keep them physically and mentally sound. When you’re caring for pet animals—whether your pets are dogs or frogs—keep the Five Freedoms in mind to be sure you’re giving them everything they need to stay healthy and happy.
Freedom From Hunger and Thirst
Animals need fresh water and a diet that is complete and balanced for their species and life stage. Animal welfare is enhanced (meaning that animals will be happier) if the eating experience is also enjoyable. For pets, this could mean adding variety to the diet or using food puzzles from time to time.
Freedom From Discomfort
At its most basic, freedom from discomfort means having shelter and a comfortable place to rest. This category can also include everything in an animal’s environment. How might you enrich your pet’s environment to promote comfort and enjoyment? Would your elderly indoor cat like a soft, easily accessible window seat to watch birds? Could your snake use another hide in the vivarium?
Freedom From Pain and Injury
Animals should have veterinary care to prevent and treat disease and injury. Caretakers can take other steps to promote health and prevent pain, such as providing appropriate physical activity and avoiding painful experiences.
Freedom to Express Normal Behavior
The original Five Freedoms specified giving animals sufficient space, proper facilities, and the right amount of company of the animal’s own kind. Animal caretakers can go far beyond these basic recommendations. Think about behavior that is normal for your pet’s species. Dogs chase things and cats sharpen claws, and they need appropriate outlets, not punishment, for these behaviors. The need for companionship depends on the species. Some animals (like guinea pigs) need to live with at least one other of their own species, and others do well living alone.
Freedom From Fear and Distress
Animals should not be kept in conditions that create anxiety and stress. Pet owners can also give their animals positive experiences to support their mental health.
To read more about the Five Freedoms and pets, check out these articles by Dr. Zazie Todd on the Companion Animal Psychology website:
What Are the Five Freedoms (and What Do They Mean to You?)
The Five Domains Model Aims to Help Animals Thrive
1. Farm Animal Welfare Council. Report on priorities for animal welfare research and development. May 1993. Accessed March 25, 2022. https://edepot.wur.nl/134980
2. Mellor DJ. Moving beyond the “five freedoms” by updating the “five provisions” and introducing aligned “animal welfare aims.” Animals (Basel). 2016;6(10):59. doi:10.3390/ani6100059
Photo by little plant on Unsplash
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Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The contents of this blog are for information only and should not substitute for advice from a veterinarian who has examined the animal. All blog content is copyrighted by Mallard Creek Animal Hospital and may not be copied, reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without permission.