When you get a new pet, no one tells you your new pet has five main welfare needs that need to be met. But maybe they should, because they provide a framework for how we should care for dogs, cats, and other pets. The Five Freedoms tell us our pets have five welfare needs – diet, environment, health, companionship, and behaviour. If we don’t provide them for our pets, they will be stressed and unhealthy. It is also important to note that many behaviour problems are, at least to some extent, a result of the animal’s welfare needs not being met. All animals deserve to be properly taken care of whether it’s a dog or a chicken. When you adopt an animal you have made a commitment to them and it’s your responsibility to honour that. Just as it is illegal and morally wrong to hurt another human, it’s also wrong to hurt animals. They depend on us to take care of them and we depend on them for many things as well.

New Zealand’s animal welfare system is based on one law that covers everything to do with animal welfare – the Animal Welfare Act 1999. Any one who owns or is in charge of animals must follow this act. There is a set of animal welfare standards known as the ‘five freedoms’. They outline what animal owners and carers must give their animals. Farmers and others working in industries based on animal production must also follow the rules set out in the Animal Welfare Act. People are now a lot more aware of the need to care for animals and it is important for a company’s image to show that they treat animals well.

The five freedoms are an important part of the Animal Welfare Act 1999. New Zealand was one of the first countries in the world to write the five freedoms into law. We need to provide our animals with the five freedoms at all times, so they can live happy and healthy lives. Almost all domesticated animals depend on humans to provide these things for them. Due to humans’ selective breeding of animals for thousands of years, these animals have not retained all of their natural instincts and behaviours that allowed their ancestors to survive in the wild.

Freedom From Hunger and Thirst

Provide Food and Water

Freedom From Discomfort

Provide Comfortable Shelter

Freedom From Pain, Injury Or Disease

Provide Medical Care

Freedom To Express Normal Behaviour

Provide Exercise and Enrichment

Freedom From Fear And Distress

Provide Love and Understanding

Freedom from Hunger and Thirst

By ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour

The proper amount of food and balance of nutrients is essential when feeding your animals. Just like us, animals need a certain combination of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and water every day in order to grow, develop and stay healthy and strong.

If animals are being fed processed food such as dry food or pellets, it is important to follow the recommended daily amounts provided on the packet labels. Just as there are underweight animals, there are many overweight animals whose bodies work extra hard to stay alive. Deposits of fat make it hard for the animals’ blood to flow efficiently. As a result, the supply of oxygen to the animals’ muscles and organs is reduced and their bodies no longer function well. The animals live in pain and discomfort and their life expectancy is shortened.

Keeping your animals active and at a healthy weight will increase their lifespan and the time you get to spend together. Different animals have different nutritional requirements. It’s always wise to discuss the best diet for each of your animals with your veterinarian. Ensuring you are giving your animals the right food, in the right amounts will help to keep your animals in good health.


Just like us, animals need fresh water available at all times. Water allows an animal’s body to function properly and to deliver important nutrients throughout their system. Water helps an animal stay hydrated and controls their body temperature, especially on hot days. Water must be fresh. If it has been sitting around for a while, water gathers germs and parasites that may be harmful. Remember to refresh animals’ water bowls at least twice a day. Never allow water bowls to remain empty, freeze or get too hot. Don’t forget to also clean your animal’s water containers every day.

Freedom from Discomfort

By providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area

All animals should live in an appropriate environment. The conditions and surroundings given to an animal contribute to their overall well-being. By providing an animal with shelter, a comfortable resting area and a large, safe space to express natural behaviours, you are ensuring that the animal remains healthy and happy.


Just like people, animals need places where they are sheltered from wind, rain and hot sun. Some animals, such as guinea pigs and rabbits, also need shelter to protect them from predators like cats and dogs. Enclosures, kennels, hutches, houses and aviaries provide shelter for our pets while barns, stables and sheds protect farm animals.

If an animal’s shelter is also their home, it must be as comfortable as possible. It must also be as large as possible, with attached areas for exercise and opportunities to express natural behaviours. Bedding within the shelter should always be soft, warm, dry and cleaned regularly.

Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease

By providing appropriate preventative measures, along with rapid diagnosis and treatment

All animals should be entitled to immediate veterinary attention when they are sick or injured. To avoid unnecessary suffering, animals should be taken to a veterinary clinic when sick or injured and treated accordingly. In most cases, unnecessary pain and injury can be prevented through regular visits to a veterinarian.

Medical (Veterinary) Care

Just like when we visit the hospital or dentist, for many animals, a visit to a veterinary clinic can sometimes be a little bit scary. Regardless of how enjoyable or not the experience is, animals should visit a veterinarian at least once a year for a health check-up and vaccinations against a range of infectious diseases. Ensuring your companion (pet) receives preventative medical care is part of being a responsible animal guardian.

If animals show any signs of pain, injury or ill health, it is important they receive veterinary care immediately. An indication that an animal may be ill could include: loss of appetite, sluggish behaviour/difficulty moving around, rapid weight loss, vomiting, diarrhoea, discharge from ears eyes or nose, lumps or bumps.

Vets can also advise on how to prevent and rid animals of fleas and worms. Fleas are small, biting, blood sucking insects that cause animals to scratch. If they are not removed, the animals may suffer from an irritating skin condition. Very young animals such as puppies and kittens, and elderly pets can become anemic and even die from flea infestations that are left untreated. Roundworms, tapeworms and hookworms are parasites that live in the digestive system, arteries and heart of an animal. Infestations of worms can be fatal. A number of treatments are available; a veterinarian will recommend the most suitable treatment for your companion animal and give you advice on scheduling these treatments regularly so these parasites don’t become a problem.

Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour

By providing for species specific requirements with respect to space, enrichment and social needs

All animals should be able to express their normal behaviours. A normal behaviour is the way an animal acts in their natural environment. Enough space, proper shelter and housing, as well as company of the animals’ own kind encourages the expression of normal behaviours.


Exercise keeps animals healthy and alert, just like it does for you. Blood flow is increased during exercise, clearing arteries and veins and transporting oxygen and nutrients around the body. Exercise keeps muscles strong, allows better digestion of food and heightens an animal’s senses. Energy that has been stored as fat can also be used up during exercise – this helps to prevent animals from becoming overweight.

Freedom to express normal behaviour is not only about an animal exercising their body, it also includes an animal’s freedom to exercise their mind. During exercise, new sights, sounds, smells and tastes can be discovered; unknown paths, trees and tunnels can be explored and new animals may be encountered – these experiences are very important for an animal’s physical and mental well-being.


Imagine if you spent your entire life alone, locked in a big room. You had food, water, a warm cosy bed and once a day you were let out for 30 minutes to run around, but that was all. You had no friends, no toys, no TV, no books, no phone, no internet. What would or could you do for the rest of the day? How do you think you would feel? Most people would experience loneliness, boredom, frustration, sadness, anger and depression. Animals are likely to feel the same way too. Animal guardians must meet their companion animal’s environmental and behavioural needs – this includes providing mental and physical enrichment.

Animal enrichment is about designing and creating interesting enclosures, and providing activities that create a more stimulating environment for an animal. Enrichment should enable them to express as many of their natural behaviours, such as exploration, foraging, locomotion, social interaction, manipulating objects or simply playing, as often as they choose. Good enrichment is safe, fun, challenging and time consuming.

Freedom from Fear and Distress

By ensuring species specific conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering

All animals deserve to be happy. Ensuring conditions that avoid unnecessary anxiety and stress will help to provide freedom from mental suffering. While favourable physical conditions are essential, appropriate mental conditions are also important to good animal welfare.

Love and Understanding

Most animals need the company of others to feel safe and secure. Most birds, cattle, dogs, guinea pigs, horses, rabbits and sheep prefer to live in groups. For millions of years, animals herded or flocked together to protect themselves from predators. Dogs form social groups, even with their human families. Cats, which are often regarded as solitary creatures, enjoy occasional cuddles and smooches and are seldom far away from the people who care for them.

However, it is not always practical to have groups of animals living in our homes. The good news is that many animals substitute people or other animals for creatures of their own species and develop special bonds with them. This is one of the reasons why humans have been successful in training dogs and horses to perform so many extraordinary tasks.

It must be remembered that if we leave our animals alone for long periods of time, they may become anxious and afraid. While anxious or afraid, they may become destructive or boisterous, damaging property, disturbing neighbours and occasionally harming themselves. Remember that your animals also need mental stimulation, like toys and things to do/play with when you are not around. This is just as important as the physical needs of our animals – it improves their lives and means you will have a happier and more social companion animal.

Taking the time to research, observe and get to know your pet, will help you to understand their needs and feelings. When animal guardians understand their companion animal, they are much better at providing what their companion animal needs to be happy and healthy.