The Five Freedoms

Part of Ireland's TNR Manual

How to Help Community Cats

The welfare of an animal includes its physical and mental state, and good animal welfare implies both fitness and a sense of well-being. Any animal kept by humans must, at least, be protected from unnecessary suffering.

An animal's welfare should be considered in terms of 'five freedoms'. These freedoms define ideal states rather than standards for acceptable welfare. They form a logical and comprehensive framework for analysis of welfare within any system together with the steps and compromises necessary to safeguard and improve welfare.

  1. Freedom from Hunger and 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 or 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.

The Five Freedoms were first proposed in Britain in the 1960's, originating with an enquiry into the welfare of animals that were kept in intensive farming conditions during 1965 in the UK. The Farm Animal Welfare Council, established by the British government in the late 1970's to advise it on legislative and other changes for farm animals, subsequently affirmed the Five Freedoms. The Council was conservatively made up of individuals with connections to agriculture: farmers, animal farming company directors, veterinary surgeons and academics specialising in agriculture. Other bodies concerned with animal welfare have approved the Freedoms.

The following table illustrates how to assess an animal's welfare in terms of the Five Freedoms:

Irish legislation typically only steps in when an animal's life is 'not worth living', rather than borderline or poor quality of life. And even then it's very hard to get charges filed at all, let alone prosecutions followed through.

Part of Ireland's TNR Manual

How to Help Community Cats


  1. It is impossible to raise animals as commodities and to accomplish these freedoms in a meaningful, ethical way. First, there’ the reproduction process, which involves sexual manipulation (molestation) as females must be artificially inseminated and sperm must be acquired from males. Then babies are taken from their mothers shortly or immediately after being born. For example, chickens have less protections than cows and fish have no protections. Chickens’ eggs are taken before they hatch. If allowed to live a normal, free life, chicks communicate with their mother hens before they hatch and would have a close relationship with their protective mothers. Then, those that survive being born live a life that is controlled and manipulated, with about 99% of all farmed animals now on factory farms, the only way to feed the masses. Modern methods of raising commercial animals has imposed completely unnatural growth and living conditions. On factory farms they live in crowded, unhealthy environments where they suffer every moment and live among their excrement 24/7. Then there’s transport to slaughter followed by slaughter which is inherently barbaric.

    According to Dr. John Webster, the researcher who helped develop the Five Freedoms, and Professor of Animal Husbandry, University of Bristol, “When put to work by comparing different housing systems, the five freedoms are an attempt to make the best of a complex situation. Absolute attainment of all five freedoms is unrealistic.”

    “Freedom from pain, injury and disease is another freedom that has some pushback from the industry and I completely understand that because of one word in the list and that is pain. There is no such thing as a pain free or even risk free existence for humans or livestock.”

  2. Hi, Im just thinking… how do “farm” animals get 3 of their freedoms?
    Farm animals feel pain, endure mental suffering and have limited to no freedom to express natural behaviours.
    This can’t be legal.

    • The five freedoms were developed to improve animal welfare in intensive farming conditions in the 60s. They’re totally open to interpretation and different countries will enforce with different enthusaisms. Totally agree on your point. But it’s legal in Ireland because the laws and enforcement are poor, They improved with the new legislation in 2014 but still fall short. You can see from the diagram in the article that cruelty/neglect is only really enforced under the worst circumstances. 🙁

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