The ‘5 Freedoms’ and Their Importance in Ensuring Animal Welfare

The 5 Freedoms in Osteopathic Medicine

By Eleanor Andrews

The welfare of animals is a crucial consideration for those of us who care about the treatment of creatures, both domestic and wild. It is important to ensure that animals are being treated with the respect and care that they deserve and that they are not being subjected to unnecessary suffering.

To that end, the ‘5 Freedoms’ were developed as a framework for analysing animal welfare within different systems. The five freedoms define ideal states rather than standards for acceptable welfare, and they form a logical and comprehensive framework for analysing animal welfare within any system.

So what are the ‘5 Freedoms’, and why are they so important?

  1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst- This freedom is achieved when animals have ready access to fresh water and a diet that maintains full health and vigour. Animals that are not properly fed and hydrated can suffer from a wide range of health problems and may even die prematurely.
  2. Freedom from Discomfort- This freedom is achieved by providing an appropriate environment that includes shelter and a comfortable resting area. Animals that are not properly housed and cared for can suffer from a range of physical and emotional problems.
  3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease- This freedom is achieved through prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment. Animals that are not properly cared for can suffer from a wide range of health problems and may be subject to painful and debilitating illnesses and injuries.
  4. Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour- This freedom is achieved by providing sufficient space, proper facilities, and the company of the animal’s own kind. Animals that are not allowed to express their natural behaviours can become stressed, anxious, and unhappy.
  5. Freedom from Fear and Distress- This freedom is achieved by ensuring conditions and treatment that avoid mental suffering. Animals that are subjected to stressful or traumatic experiences can suffer from a wide range of psychological problems and may also develop physical health problems as a result.
Why does this matter to an animal osteopath?

These five freedoms are crucial to ensuring the welfare of animals, and they are an important consideration for anyone who cares about the treatment of animals. Whether we are talking about domestic pets, farm animals, or wild animals, it is important to ensure that they are being treated with the respect and care that they deserve.

As an animal osteopath, it is my role to consider the five freedoms within my osteopathic approach. This may occur during case history taking, case analysis, assessment of the patient, consideration of clinical flags and formulating a treatment and management plan to most effectively support the animal in their return to optimal health and during preventative healthcare. Any disruption to the five freedoms within that patient will have an adverse impact on the animal and will play a role in allostatic loading. As an osteopath, this is important for me to consider as it will influence my approach to the animal and thus is vital within the consideration of management, considering the impact biomechanically, psychologically and physiologically.

It is also important to consider that in some cases, this may require communication with the vet or relative authorities regarding welfare. Often, when we think about welfare issues, we think about animals who look like skin and bones, are emaciated and have a lack of love, care and attention. However, welfare issues can also be the opposite. We understand the physiological impact of obesity, overnutrition, poor quality and inappropriate nutrition; all of these can adversely impact the animal’s life.

Sometimes, this is a lack of owner understanding and awareness, and education and understanding as to how they can best support the animal without just feeding it each time is part of the treatment and management plan. We also have to consider when welfare issues arise due to a lack of owner ability. This may be due to, amongst other reasons, bereavement, ill health, frailty or cognitive decline, which can lead to forgetting how often they have fed the animal or given them their medication.

These can be challenging conversations to have, and at the heart of it, often, is owner education and understanding and the situation of the animal not having its five freedoms met can be reversed. However, sometimes it goes beyond this. It is important to remember that we are there for our animal patients, to speak for them, to stand up for them and to educate those involved in their care. To support the welfare and health of our patients.


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