Animal Welfare Overview

From family pets and farmed animals to wild animals and species yet to be discovered, countless creatures are influenced by our everyday activities and consumption.  Though it’s common to use animals for such purposes as food, clothing, research, ritual and entertainment, these practices meet criticism for the harm caused to animals. Human degradation of wild habitats is another major problem for animal populations, as they depend on these natural resources for survival. While many people contend ethical and emotional reasons for animal protection, it’s clear that animal welfare and human welfare are deeply linked.

Animal Cruelty

Animal cruelty is the unwarranted injury or neglect of animals.  Passive cruelty involves acts of neglect, such as lack of medical care, shelter, food, or water.  When this form of cruelty is due to the owner’s ignorance, it can be corrected through education.  Active cruelty is more deliberate, carried out with the intention to “hurt” an animal. Cruelty toward animals is bad news for humans, too. One study found that 70% of animal abusers had committed other crimes, and 44% went on to harm people. Companion animals (such as dogs and cats) are the most regular victims of active cruelty.  While animal suffering may be unavoidable at times, the exploitation of these creatures can be prevented.

Animal Testing

The use of live animals in controlled laboratory testing is commonplace.  Worldwide estimates of the number of vertebrate animals used in testing range from the tens of millions to more than 100 million annually. Much more commonly used, invertebrates make up about 90% of research animals. Supporters of animal testing argue that virtually every medical achievement in the 20th century relied on the use of animals in some way. However, animals can suffer unimaginable distress in laboratories, and animal rights activists argue that these creatures have the right not tobe used in experimentation.  There is general agreement that animal life should not be taken wantonly; however, regulations on this practice vary worldwide.  For example, animal testing for cosmetics is banned across the European Union, but ingredients can still be tested on animals in other countries, such as Brazil, China and the United States.

Animals In Entertainment

Animals have long been used for the entertainment and education of humans.  Zoos, aquariums and circuses showcase some of the many creatures that share our planet, but these environments often do not meet the physical, social, behavioral or emotional conditions necessary for the animals to thrive.  Circuses in particular have come under fire for employing tactics of intimidation and physical brutality to teach animals routines.  Recently, countries like Sweden, Costa Rica, Austria, Finland, India and Singapore have come forward to ban or restrict the use of animals in circuses. The use of animals in filmmaking has also received criticism for allegedly harmful and sometimes lethal treatment of animals during production. Meanwhile, proponents believe that zoos, circuses and aquariums are essential in building awareness of animal welfare.


Because people, plants and animals of all varieties depend on each other in complex ways, each species plays an important ecological, biological and social role.  Scientists estimate that the Earth hosts approximately 8.7 million animal and plant species, and such biodiversity is a key aspect of a healthy and productive world. Today, nearly 20,000 animal species worldwide are considered endangered, meaning they are at risk of extinction, largely due to hunting or loss of habitat. The vast majority of endangered species are located in the continents of North and South America, Asia and Australia.

Factory Farming

Annually, over 65 billion animals are killed for food, and 40-50 million animals are killed for their fur. Public concern for the physical and psychological well-being of these creatures has helped regulate the industry, but “ethical treatment” standards still vary country by country.  The use of crates, for example – small cages designed to virtually immobilize the animals inside them – is still widely practiced outside of Europe. In many cases, meat production methods pose health risks for consumers. Additionally, evidence increasingly shows that the human appetite for meat is a driving force behind nearly every major category of environmental damage. Because meat production accounts for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, the UN suggests that the developed world cut its meat consumption by 50% per person by the year 2050.  Others advocate mindful meat eating.

Habitat Destruction

Animals dependent on particular habitats are unable to survive when these places vanish. There are many causes of habitat destruction, including logging, mining, oil drilling and the clearing of land for human residence. According to the United Nations, half the world’s tropical forests have been cleared or degraded as a result of human activities and/or environmental disasters, and most of this has happened in the last few decades. Habitat loss is not limited to tropical forests; it also occurs in other vulnerable ecosystems such as wetlands, prairies, deserts, coastal regions and coral reef. This process of destruction is threatening to animals, plants and humans alike.

Hunting & Poaching

The hunting business has great influence on the survival of wild animal populations. Its large profits can promote conservation and provide a welcome economic boost to poverty-stricken nations; however, the industry is far from self-regulating. Irresponsible practices such as cross-species breeding and excessive hunting have been known to endanger individual animal species along with their entire habitat. Meanwhile, poaching is a dire problem in Africa and southeast Asia, driven bycultural demand for exotic foods, medicines and ornaments, all coming from endangered and threatened species. In 2011 alone, 23 tons of illegally harvested ivory were seized in transit from Africa to Asia, indicating the death of about 2,500 elephants. Poaching poses extreme danger to the survival of many other species as well, especially tigers, rhinos, pangolin and shark.

Pet Homelessness

Domestic animals often survive little more than a year if they’re left without a home. Further, street animal overpopulation is an ecological and public health problem. In some countries, local authorities electrocute, poison or use other brutal methods to kill unwanted animals. Animal shelters lack the resources to sustain the animals they receive, leading to widespread, and costly, euthanasia.Caged for too long, unwanted pets become withdrawn, severely depressed or aggressive, which can further decrease their chance of adoption. As a result, there’s a constant debate between activists supporting the “no-kill” approach versus those who advocate euthanasia as the most compassionate way to deal with unwanted animals.