What is Positive Welfare? And why negative welfare is no longer enough

In 1872 Charles Darwin described how animals’ facial expressions showed different emotions; anger, fear, affection… Animal cruelty was recognised as when someone intentionally set out to harm an animal, and legislation developed to deal with this with the Protection of Animals Acts 1911. Fast forward to 1964, a book was written by Ruth Harrison titled Animal Machines which claimed that animals within intensive farming systems were suffering. In this case in ways there were no words to describe their suffering, and major public outcry pressured the government to do something. The Brambell Committee was formed and between 1964-1971 “animal welfare” was defined as a concept within government legislation for the first time. Voluntary welfare codes of practice were developed and since then animal welfare has become a highly contentious political and social issue.

Back on topic now, there is overwhelming evidence that animals (both vertebrates and invertebrates) are conscious however that is a topic for another day, for now lets just assume its right.

With the Animal Welfare Act 2006 animals are provided with the “five freedoms” which are based upon the recommendations of the Brambell Committee.

  • Freedom from Hunger and Thirst
  • Freedom from Discomfort
  • Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease
  • Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour
  • Freedom from Fear and Distress

If you look at these you will see a pattern, the majority are all negatives. Hunger, Thirst, Discomfort, Pain, Injury, Disease, Fear, Distress… These are things that should be taken for granted as a given. The interpretation of the “Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour” could also make it a negative if someone removed that ability. Over the past few years the definition of negative welfare has come around to cover these.

Now positive welfare is the opposite, instead of preventing a negative its introducing a positive to the life of the animal. In Zoo’s its probably better known as environmental enrichment. Instead of just removing negatives, we are introducing positives into the animals life with the aim to make them happy. Whether that is a new toy for a dog, or using a multichamber housing system for a hamster. Encouraging natural foraging behaviour, taking longer walks, using toys with cats, and varying treats with the food all help this.

What are your best ways for making your pet happy? Share them below for everyone to benefit from!