What do the five animal welfare needs mean?

What do the five animal welfare needs mean?

Life As A Pet Parent

The majority of the UK pet owners keep their pets safe, happy and healthy. The basic needs of all pets are also laid down in law - the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to be exact. It is generally human nature to look after and care for our pets, so what do the basic welfare needs consist of? In this Vets4Homes article, we’ll delve deeper into the 5 welfare needs, with an example of each in real-life scenarios.

What is need one? Although there is no actual order to the 5 welfare needs, a good place to begin is with this one:

The need for a suitable environment

Why start at this one? Well if you think about it, this is the very beginning of being a responsible pet owner. With this step, it can help a potential owner decide on the best type of pet for them. The very minimum environmental needs are:

  • A warm and comfortable place to sleep that is dry.
  • Access to be able to go to the toilet – for example in dogs this could be outside, and the cats use a litter tray.

As stated, those are the very minimum needs for an animal’s environment. Consideration needs to be given to the species of animal and their size.

A small breed dog, for example, would not need as much space to exercise and have privacy as a larger breed dog, especially a working breed.

If you are rescuing a pet, finding out as much about it beforehand is vital. The personality can also determine the type of environment that will be suitable for them.

If you are getting a cat that is quite skittish, a home that is very busy with lots of comings and goings is probably not the most ideal situation for them to be in.

A need for a suitable diet

The second important need on our list is a need for a suitable diet. This can be a very emotive need, as there are many people that like to feed raw for example, whilst many also prefer a commercial pet food.

Generally, this is irrelevant to this actual need, because a suitable diet can also be specific to the breed and species. For example, a rabbit needs 80 to 90% hay daily, to keep their digestive system working efficiently and to stop them from going into gut stasis (where the digestive system stops working). They also need this diet to wear down their constantly growing teeth.

Vets will always advise owners to feed the best diet they can afford to their pet. This, of course, includes good nutrition and quality ingredients. Puppy and kitten food need to be high in nutritional value, and carefully formulated to ensure that young animals get the appropriate nutrition for healthy development.

Feeding a pet, a diet specially tailored to their species can help with their weight – an overweight animal that is classed as obese is another welfare issue in itself.

So, the second need for a suitable diet is not just as clear-cut as feeding the pet!

Allowing the pet to exhibit normal behaviour

On our list need, three is allowing the pet to exhibit normal behaviour.

If we refer back to need one, having a suitable environment is only part of the jigsaw – if a large breed dog, for example, has a large garden for exercise, do they still have enough mental stimulation? Are they able to interact with other people and perhaps other dogs? Do they have a ball to chase? All these are natural behaviours for dogs. They are a sociable animal and need that mental stimulation.

Cats also need somewhere to be able to explore, make their own territorial area and of course, climb. Even indoor cats need somewhere to climb, hide, and explore. They won’t have a tree indoors (Christmas trees don’t count!) So, they will need somewhere to sharpen their claws such as a scratch post.

If this third need isn’t met, the animal is much more liable to be destructive, display boredom and frustration. They can even become aggressive. This is why the third need for them to exhibit normal behaviour for their species and breed is very important.

Need to be housed with or apart from other animals

The next on the list is the need to be housed with or apart from other animals. So, what does this actually mean? This is really species-specific because there are types of animals that like to be alone, whereas some prefer to live in a pack. The pack often is a human family!

Animals such as rabbits, mice, and rats really do enjoy having another friend for interaction. Remember rabbits and guinea pigs, could be friends – but there is always the possibility of bullying from either. Guinea pigs also have completely different dietary needs to rabbits so keeping them together is not ideal.

Cats prefer their own company much of the time, and even though dogs are pack animals, sometimes their personalities dictate they prefer their own company with just you as the human companion.

This is a very important point, because any pet that lives with you by themselves, will look for you for companionship, as well as play. As responsible pet owners, if this is the case, we must always fulfil this need.

So, need four again needs to be decided upon early in the stages of thinking of taking on a pet.

Animals to be protected from pain, suffering, and disease

The fifth and final need is for animals to be protected from pain, suffering, and disease.

Any responsible adult would never like to see an animal in pain. Animals feel pain just as humans do and certain conditions can cause discomfort at any stage of their life. For older pets, arthritis may cause them joint pain and it is up to us as their guardians to do everything we can help them feel better.

Throughout every life stage from puppy, adult, and senior pet, they need regular vet visits and as humans, we need to act upon advice given by veterinary professionals.

If a vet suggests a specialist diet, a medication to reduce pain, a complementary therapy such as hydrotherapy or acupuncture, these all should be considered seriously. Animals look to us to help ease any pain or suffering, and that is what the last need means.

As humans, we also have the unenviable choice when an animal is very sick or carrying a life-threatening condition/disease to be able to request euthanasia. This is a selfless act to help prevent any further suffering in the pet. And it’s never an easy choice.


The five welfare needs are in place to ensure that the U.K.’s pets are as healthy, happy and as well looked after as possible. As humans, owning an animal is a privilege and it is our duty and responsibility to not only meet the welfare needs, but exceed them.



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