Animal Welfare Glossary of Terms


ABNORMAL BEHAVIOR – Behavior that deviates in form, frequency, or sequence from a defined standard.

AGGRESSION – Purposeful action with actual or potential result of harming, limiting, intimidating, instilling fear or submission, etc.

ALPHA ANIMAL – The animal that ranks highest in its social group.

ANIMAL WELFAREA movement that believes a reduced and minimal number of animals should be used in research-and that those animals used should be treated as humanely as possible. This concept includes proper housing, disease prevention, nutrition, and humane euthanasia or slaughter.

ANIMAL RIGHTS – A movement that insists animals have moral rights equal to those of humans and is totally opposed to using animals for biomedical research, sporting events, clothing, entertainment, product testing, and for food.

ANOREXIA – refusal to eat.

ANTHROPOCENTRIC – Placing humans at the center of one’s world, as though all other life forms are relatively unimportant or inferior to humans.

ANTHROPOMORPHIC – Attributing to animals the human features and behaviors, thinking that animal needs and wants are the same as human needs and wants.

ANTIBIOTIC – Product produced by living organisms such as yeast and destroys or inhibits the growth of other organisms, especially bacteria.

APATHY – Listless behavior, lack of interest or motivation, loss of initiative; sometimes due to continual frustration.

APHAGIA – Unable to eat, due either to physical or neurological conditions.

ARITIFICIAL INSEMINATION (AI) – Placing semen into the female reproductive tract (usually the cervix or uterus) by means other than natural intromission (also referred to as “service” or “cover”).

AUTONOMOUS – A species living or conducting itself completely independent of others: self-determining, subject to its own laws. When applied to the consideration of animals and their relationship to humans – are the animals free from dependence on humans for well-being? If so, they are autonomous.


BARROW – A young castrated male pig.

BATTERY CAGES (focus poultry) – Cages for housing of egg-laying chickens. The cages have water sources and feeders. Battery cages usually are placed on top of each other in such a way that there is a roof to prevent excretions from falling on birds below. The number of hens housed in each cage depends on its size and specified guidelines for space allowance.

BEAK TRIMMING – Removal by laser or hot knife of the distal portion (tip) of the beak in chicks. This is done in some operations to reduce injuries from pecking by other birds.


CRATE (focus on pigs and calves) – A pen area that allows lying down and standing up but prevents the animal from turning around or leaving the crate. Gestation crates house pregnant sows (female pigs). Farrowing crates house sows near and after giving birth to off-spring (piglets). Veal crates are used to house some young diary calves being raised for the purpose of producing veal.


DECLAWING – Surgical removal of claws and last (most distal) bones of the toes of cats but has been used for other animals at times.

DEHORNING – Removal of horns or horn buds of calves and goat kids.

DISCRIMINATION (focus on biomedical research) – Selection of an animal for experimentation, where that animal’s responses are applicable and the results of the experiment will apply to the target organism (animal or human).


ENVIRONMENTAL ENRICHMENT – Adding complexity to the animal’s enclosure for the purpose of mental and behavioral stimulation.

ESTRUS – Period of sexual receptivity of females of several species and preparatory for mating activity. Sometimes called “heat.”

ETHICS – The study of ultimate values and the standards by which human actions can be judged right or wrong.

ETHOLOGY – The study of animal behavior.


FARROWING – The process of giving birth (parturition) in swine.

FETICIDE – Male harassment of pregnant females carrying the fetus of another male, apparently to cause abortion. Has been observed in wild or feral horses.

FIGHT/FLIGHT DISTANCE – Distance at which an organism will have a response (normally behavioral) upon the approach of another organism or object.


GENE PHARMING – The use of transgenic animals (and sometimes plants) to produce medicines or other pharmaceutical products.

GENETIC ENGINEERING Changing the characteristics of an animal by altering or rearranging its DNA. It is an all-encompassing term for several techniques: (1) manipulations at a cellular level (cloning); (2) manipulation of the DNA itself (gene manipulation); (3) changing the DNA sequence through the selection and mating of animals.

GENOME – Total number of genes in a species.

GESTATION – Time elapsing from conception until birth.



INSTINCTIVE BEHAVIOR – Inborn, unlearned responses, activities, and behaviors.

INFANTICIDE – Killing of young of the same species. An example would be a male bear killing cubs of a female. This will cause the female to come back into reproductive receptivity or estrus. Also seen with feral cats.



KAINISM – Killing siblings.

KOSHER MEAT – Meat from ruminant animals (with split hooves) that have been harvested (slaughtered) according to Jewish law. Islam has similar requirements (Halal).


LIBERATION – The concept that animals are not to be put to work in any way, and all use of animals should be eliminated. Animal liberationists have been known to break into research labs and set animals free.


MATRIARCH – A predominant female in a social hierarchy.

MOLTING (poultry) – Seasonal shedding feathers of birds.

MORALITY – Internal rules that govern and limit our conduct.

MORBIDTY – Measurement of illness; morbidity rate is the number of individuals in a group that become ill during a specified time period. (# / time = rate).

MORTALITY RATE – Number of individuals that die from a disease during a specified time. (# / time = rate).


NEEDLE TEETH (swine) – Temporary tusks and a pair of incisors in the upper and the lower jaws of baby pigs.

NON-AMBULATORY DISABLED CATTLE – [Cattle] “that cannot rise from a recumbent position or cannot walk, including, but not limited to, those with broken appendages, severed tendons or ligaments, nerve paralysis, fractured vertebral column or metabolic conditions.”

NUTRIENT – (1) Substance that nourishes the metabolic processes of the body. (2) End product of digestion that is absorbed by the intestinal tract.

NUTRIENT DENSITY – Concentration of energy (calories/gram) or of essential nutrients relative to the number of calories in a given amount of food.


OUTDOOR HOUSING – Housing where animals are kept predominantly or continuously outdoors.

OX – A castrated male bovine used for work (draft) or transport activities.


PILING (poultry) – Voluntary accumulation of individuals in a small area so that some may be buried under others. Piling is observed in cold temperatures, drafts, or by events inducing fear and escape responses.

PREFERENCE – Choice of a certain alternative over another alternative(s). Often used with animals to test food or housing choices.



RESTRAINT – Temporary restriction of movement for examination, surgery, medication, and breeding.

ROUGHAGE – Feed that is high in fiber, low in digestible nutrients, and low in energy (e.g., hay, straw, silage, and pasture).


SAPIENCE – Awareness of being aware that comes with sentience.

SENTIENCE – Capability of detecting changes in one’s personal environment – particularly regarding pain or discomfort. Having a nervous system and capable of responding to stimuli. Sentience is awareness. Sapience is awareness of that awareness.

SPECIESISM – Placing the interest of one chosen species above the interests of another species.

STEREOTYPICAL BEHAVIOR (Stereotypy) – A constant, repeated behavior. Has been attributed to extended social isolation, low environmental complexity, deprivation, etc. Stereotypy also may arise from genetic predispositions, or from disease of, or damage to the brain. Definition from Hurnik et al., 1995. #


TAIL BITING (swine) – Mouthing, chewing, or rigorous biting of the tails of other pigs. Tail biting can lead to injury and death.

TIE STALL – Housing option in which the animal is kept in a stall or pen area by a device around the neck, sometimes seen in diary operations, where an animal is retained except when released temporarily for grazing, milking, etc.

TRANSGENIC – An organism or animal whose genome includes “foreign” genetic material. Foreign genetic material would be a DNA sequence or gene that does not normally occur in the species of the host organism or animal.


UTILITARIANISM – Philosophy of decision making where the best conduct or viewpoint is the one that best serves the majority. For most animal rights advocates, other animals are equal to humans – all are beings. Thus, the utilitarian aspect brings the most good to the most beings.


VEAL – Meat from very young cattle (under 3 months of age). Veal typically comes from dairy bull calves.

VEGETARIAN – Persons who do not eat meat, poultry, and fish. There are several different sub-classifications. Vegetarians who consume dairy products are Laco-vegetarians. Vegetarians that consume dairy and eggs are Lacto-Ovo-vegetarians. There are other classifications. Therefore offering a “vegetarian” meal on a menu may not meet the requirements of all vegetarians (e.g. salad with cheese topping and some salad dressing may contain egg products, many forms of mayonnaise may contain egg products).

VEGAN – Vegans are vegetarians who abstain form eating or using all animal products (e.g. animal derived food, fiber, pharmaceuticals, etc.). As with vegetarians there may different classifications.

VIVISECTION – Act of operating or experimenting on living animals.



XENOTRANSPLANTATION – The transplanting of living cells, tissues, and/or organs from one species to another species. Organs from various species have been transplanted into people – for example, rabbits, pigs, goats, lambs, and non-human primates.



ZOONOSIS – Animal disease (bacterial, fungal, parasitic, viral, or prion) transmissible to humans. Examples include tuberculosis and rabies.

ZOOPHOBIA – An excessive fear of animals by humans.