Animal Welfare

Animal Welfare

What is animal welfare?

Animal Welfare is about how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives. The term encompasses an animal’s physical state, its mental state and its ability to fulfill its natural needs and desires.

Why is animal welfare important?

Animals are sentient, that is to say they are capable of thinking and feeling, therefore humans are morally and ethically obliged to consider their well-being, especially when they are used for food, in animal experimentation, as pets, or in other ways. It is the responsibility of every person who owns or looks after animals to ensure their good welfare.

Cruelty to animals is, of course, bad for their welfare. There are laws in Hong Kong to prohibit acts of cruelty to animals (The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, Cap. 169). However it should be noted that good welfare is much more than the absence of cruelty. Animals can experience positive feelings such as contentment, curiosity and playfulness as well as negative feelings such as hunger, thirst, pain, and fear. So, as well as avoiding those things which can lead to negative feelings, we should endeavour to provide opportunities for animals to experience positive feelings.

In the following sections we will look at some different approaches to describing animal welfare in more detail.

Animal Welfare Models

There are many models which help us to think about animal welfare in different ways. For example, this is the OIE (The World Animal Health Organisation) definition of Animal Welfare:
“Animal welfare means how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives. An animal is in a good state of welfare if (as indicated by scientific evidence) it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behaviour, and if it is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress. Good animal welfare requires disease prevention and veterinary treatment, appropriate shelter, management, nutrition, humane handling and humane slaughtering/killing. 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.”

Another widely used model of animal welfare is “The Five Freedoms” which were first published in their current form by the UK’s Farm Animal Welfare Council in 1979:

  1. Freedom from hunger or thirst – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
  2. Freedom from discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Freedom from pain, injury, and disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to express normal behaviour – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  5. Freedom from fear and distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

Whilst the five freedoms are a very useful way of assessing the welfare of animals, they concentrate on avoidance of negative experiences. More recently, good animal welfare is seen not just as avoidance of negative experiences but including the promotion of positive experiences. With this in mind, the notion of the Five Domains of Potential Animal Welfare Compromise (“The Five Domains”) was first put forward by Professors Mellor and Reid in 1994. They were developed from “The Five Freedoms”, but presented in terms of welfare compromise instead of freedoms, Mellor believes that the domains tackle more precisely the everyday reality of what can go wrong with an animal’s welfare. According to Mellor, the five domains are:

  • nutrition
  • environment
  • health
  • behaviour
  • mental state

Professors Mellor & Reid formulated the Five Domains concept with an aim to provide a model that would help to make sure that assessments of animal welfare would be comprehensive.

For instance, in the nutrition domain, food or water deprivation may lead to the subjective experience of hunger or thirst; in the health domain, illness or injury may lead to a number of experiences including pain, difficulty in breathing, nausea, nervousness, terror, unease; in the behaviour domain, limited behavioural expressions caused by space constraint, isolation or uninteresting environments may lead to feelings such as boredom, dissatisfaction, irritation, loneliness or helplessness. Thinking about animal welfare in this way expands the list of potential negative experiences compared to the five freedoms model.

Besides having the potential to experience these negative states, animals are likely to have positive experiences such as feelings of satiety, satisfaction, curiosity and playfulness. We can therefore say that the presence of some positive feelings might be considered to represent a “need” in the mental domain.

Using the “Five Domains” model, we can conclude that an animal’s welfare may be considered to be good if its nutritional, environmental, health, behavioural and mental needs are met. Meeting these needs can be achieved by looking after animals in ways that not only avoid negative mental states but also promote positive experiences.

We can also look at animal welfare over different scales of time. In addition to taking a ‘snapshot’ of an animal’s welfare at a single point in time, we may also consider welfare over the whole of its life. Whilst an animal’s welfare may be better at some points in its life than in others, we should of course aim for a positive balance overall and we should be able to say that an animal has a life worth living, or, even better, a good life.

Animal Welfare Science

Animal welfare is often a subject that stirs strong emotions in people. However animal welfare can be assessed using scientific methodology. We can use observations of animal behaviour to assess their preferences, strength of motivation, things or situations they try to avoid, occurrence of abnormal behaviours and many other things. We can also measure physiological functions such as heart rate or steroid levels to determine an animal’s response to a given situation and therefore conclude whether or not welfare is affected and how it is affected. Many scientific journals are dedicated to publishing research on animal welfare and our knowledge of this subject is expanding all the time.

Animal Welfare in Hong Kong

  • Hong Kong’s Animal Welfare Advisory Group (AWAG)

    AWAG was first formed in April 1997. Its remit is to advise the Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation on matters concerning animal welfare including the promotion of community awareness of animal welfare and responsible pet ownership. The group consists of a Chairperson, an Assistant Director of AFCD and nine or ten members of the public, who are drawn from various animal welfare organisations, kennel clubs and other animal-related businesses. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) provides secretarial and administrative support to AWAG. The group meets about three times a year.

  • AFCD’s Animal Management (Development) Division

    AFCD established the Animal Management (Development) Division (AM(D)D) in 2010 to plan and implement publicity activities and public education programmes to promote and raise public awareness of animal welfare, educate the public about Responsible Pet Ownership (RPO) and promote re-homing of pets. AMDD regularly organises a wide range of activities and events which include animal adoption days, carnivals, competitions, dog training courses, educational seminars and roving exhibitions. AMDD also promotes animal welfare through publicity campaigns which include placing advertisements related to animal welfare on public transport such as buses, minibuses, MTR, etc. and producing booklets, leaflets and posters on topics related to animal welfare. Educational videos and Announcements of Public Interest (APIs) are also broadcast from time to time to raise awareness of RPO and animal welfare.

  • Laws that safeguard animal welfare in Hong Kong:

    Animals are sentient therefore consideration must be given to their well-being. It is important to have laws that protect their welfare.

    The legislation helps to send a clear message as to what is considered acceptable and right in our society.

    1. Legislation that is applicable to all animals:
      Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, Cap. 169
      This is one of the most important laws concerned with animal welfare in Hong Kong.

      Cruelty refers to any unnecessary suffering that is caused to animals. This could be the deliberate infliction of suffering such as infuriating, terrifying, beating or otherwise ill-treating an animal, but can also be by caused by negligence such as not giving enough food, water, space for movement, shelter from the sun and rain, etc. Failure to seek appropriate treatment for illness or injury may also constitute cruelty. In addition, keeping animals in unhygienic conditions may also be a form of cruelty. For a full list of the situations which can be classed as cruelty, please refer to the Ordinance here.

      The penalty of this ordinance was increased in 2006 to further safeguard animal welfare, prohibit and deter cruel acts to animals and punish offenders.

      Offenders are liable to a fine of up to $200,000 and 3 years imprisonment.

      The penalty of this ordinance was increased in 2006 to further safeguard animal welfare, prohibit and deter cruel acts to animals and punish offenders.

      Offenders are liable to a fine of up to $200,000 and 3 years imprisonment.

    2. Legislation that is applicable to animals or birds being sold:
      The Public Health (Animals and Birds) (Trading and Breeding) Regulations, Cap. 139B regulates animal traders, dog breeders and any person who sells or offers to sell a dog.

      Under this regulation, any person who sells or offers to sell animals or birds, other than his/her pets or the offspring thereof, must apply for an animal trader licence from AFCD. Any person who sells or offers to sell a dog (whether or not is kept by him/her as a pet) must obtain a licence or permit. Click here for more information.

    3. Legislation that is applicable to animals being kept at a boarding establishment: The Public Health (Animals) (Boarding Establishment) Regulations, Cap. 139I.

      Under this regulation, a person who carries on a business of providing food and accommodation for animals in return for a fee or other money consideration paid by the owner or person having control of the animals, must possess a licence.

      Both Cap. 139B and 139I set the standards of the primary enclosures, housing facilities and outdoor areas where the animals or birds are kept to ensure that the animals’ basic needs are met and animal welfare is safeguarded. Additionally, a Code of Standards or Code of Practice is applied to licensees and licensed premises to further improve standards of welfare.

  • What can you do to help safeguard and promote animal welfare in Hong Kong?

    1. Adopt a pet from AFCD’s partnering Animal Welfare Organisations (AWOs)
      Many animals deserve a second chance of being a pet again after they were abandoned or given up by their owners. If you are considering getting a pet, we encourage you to adopt abandoned or surrendered pets through our partnering AWOs.

      Our veterinarians will perform health checks and temperament assessment of the abandoned or surrendered animals received by this department. Those with a good temperament and health condition will be transferred to our partnering AWOs for neutering (mainly dogs and cats) and adoption.

      By adopting these unwanted yet healthy and friendly pets, you save their precious lives by giving them a chance to live and be an affectionate companion again.

      Many of these lovely pets are looking for homes. If you want to adopt a pet, please click here for the contacts of the AWOs.

      The Animal Management (Development) Division of this department also organises animal adoption days and carnivals regularly. To receive news about our upcoming events, please click here for our free e-news subscription. Alternatively, you can click here for our news and information about our past and upcoming events.

    2. Be a Responsible Pet Owner
      Before you get a pet, make sure you know what its needs are and make sure that you can provide for those needs for the whole life of the pet. Once you get a pet, take good care of it for life. Make sure that your pet’s nutritional, environmental, health, behavioural and mental needs are met. You can find out more about proper care of your dog here and proper care of your pet here.

    3. Neuter your pet
      If you own a cat, dog or rabbit, it is advisable to have it neutered. As well as reducing the number of unwanted animals, neutering can also discourage aggression and help prevent medical problems in later life. You can find more information about neutering here.

    4. Say “NO” to pet abandonment
      Think very carefully before you get a pet. Make sure you are committed to taking care of it for life. Once you own a pet, never abandon it. Abandoning a pet is a cruel act, and it is also an offence under the law. If you really can’t keep your pet anymore, find a new and reliable owner for your pet or check with the SPCA or AFCD’s partnering AWOs to see if there is a chance of rehoming your pet. NEVER TURN A PET OUT TO FEND FOR ITSELF. You can find more information here.

    5. Report animal cruelty
      If you witness any incident of animal cruelty, please report the case to the police, SPCA or call 1823 to inform AFCD. The caller’s identity will be kept confidential.

      Reporting Hotline
      Hong Kong Police: 999
      AFCD: 1823 (handled by “1823”)
      SPCA: 2711 1000

      You can find more information about prevention of animal cruelty here.