This article by One Health and Development Initiative (OHDI) originally appeared in the Nigerian Tribune
HAVE you ever stopped to consider if animals feel emotions such as happiness, pain, joy, suffering, sadness and love? This concept is strange to many people, especially in communities like ours where animals are often used more for food and other resources that meet human needs than for companionship. However, the truth is that animals do feel like humans, an ability called sentence. However, the main difference is in the expression of these feelings which vary between humans and animals, including fish and even insects. Researchers have investigated the behavior and health of animals and provided evidence that animals do feel many emotions more than we thought possible. These scientific findings form the basis of animal welfare.
Animal welfare refers to the state of an animal, how it is coping with the condition it lives in and the treatment it receives in terms of care, management, and humane treatment. Animal welfare is not limited to just health and production, but particularly includes natural behavior, mental state, and feelings. According to American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), “An animal is in a good state of welfare if it is healthy, comfortable, well-nourished, safe, able to express innate behavior, and if it is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress”. On the other hand, an animal is in a bad state of welfare if it is unhealthy, malnourished, unsafe, unable to express natural behavior and suffering from pain, fear, and distress. Therefore, throughout the life cycle of an animal, good animal welfare practice must include disease prevention and veterinary treatment, appropriate shelter, management, nutrition, humane handling, and humane slaughter.
There are five main indicators popularly known as “Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare” which provide the most basic guide or indicator to determine if an animal is in a good state of welfare or not. These include freedom from hunger and thirst, meaning providing adequate measures of healthy and nutritious food and water for animals in a timely and consistent manner freedom from discomfort, meaning providing a comfortable healthy environment for animals that does not have restrictions and harsh environmental conditions (such as rain, extreme cold or hot weather noise, or fear).
Then there is freedom from pain, injury, and disease, meaning providing adequate care and environment does not cause pain or injury, and providing prompt and quality veterinary treatment, There is also freedom to express normal and natural behaviour, meaning providing natural conditions that allow the animal to move around and express their natural instincts and behaviors in a protected and safe environment. Then there is freedom from fear and distress, meaning treating animals humanely whether in handling, management or slaughter, in a manner that does not induce fear, pain or distress. If animals can feel as we do, then we humans as custodians of animals must consider putting these guidelines into practice and improving their welfare and health. One Health and Development Initiative (OHDI) in partnership with Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) has played a critical role in the vast awareness of animal welfare so, it is imperative that animal welfare should be practised in any sector that involves animals: for companionship, agriculture, entertainment, companionship, security, wildlife and even research.