Animal Rights vs. Animal Welfare: What’s the Difference?

Learn the difference between animal rights and welfare and why these are important for all living creatures.

Jul 5, 2024byDonna Hobson

animal rights vs animal welfare difference


Animal rights are a hotly debated topic and ignite strong emotions in people. There’s no right or wrong answer. Yet, many of us would agree that any living, breathing being who can think for themselves and feel pain has the right to live a cruelty-free life.


The challenge is that giving animals rights would severely limit human development and research. Still, as we learn more about animal cognition, it’s hard to justify some of the ways humans treat animals. Continue reading to gain a perspective on both sides.


Animal Rights Activists Argue Against Any Testing 

lamb sheep in field
Credit: Image by Anja on Pixabay


Animal rights recognize animals as sentient beings with the right to lead a life free from human exploitation. This does not mean giving animals the same rights as humans or placing them above humans; it simply means giving them freedom from human use and exploitation.


When we give animals rights, we acknowledge that they are different from inanimate objects. Instead, they are living, breathing beings who share many psychological, biological, and emotional traits with humans. Animal rights acknowledge that animals deserve respect, dignity, and to live freely.


Humans use and exploit animals in an innumerable number of ways, committing many crimes against innocent animals by:



The issue of animal rights has been debated for centuries, with earlier civilizations believing that transmigration could occur between the souls of humans and animals. More recently, we have come to understand just how emotional some animals (like livestock) are.


farm in canada
Credit: Image by Wikimedia Commons


Giving animals rights is crucial for reducing the amount of suffering in the world. It protects them against being caged, traded, or killed because we can profit from it. Animal rights are necessary because – just like human rights – they recognize that sentient beings deserve to live a life full of kindness and free from animal abuse.


Animal Welfare Acknowledges the Importance of Animal Testing 

highland cow
Credit: Image by Sandra on Pixabay


Animal welfare is quite different from the idea of animal rights, though people often confuse the two terms. Animal rights take away our ability to use and exploit animals for personal gain, whereas animal welfare allows some of these practices to continue as long as we follow humane guidelines.


At first, animal welfare might sound like an agreement to continue the exploitation of these innocent creatures, but it is not so straightforward.


Animals play crucial roles in certain human activities; animal welfare recognizes that these activities allow us to find cures for diseases or make significant scientific breakthroughs. It’s hard to admit, but lab mice do serve an important purpose in technology and science.


But still, we must take responsibility for the physical and mental wellbeing of the animals in their care.


lab rat
Credit: Image by Wikimedia Commons


People who fight for animal rights believe that we should be forbidden from using animals for any purpose because they are living beings who deserve freedom (just like humans). People who believe in the animal welfare system think that using animals for certain practices is justifiable (in that it works for the greater good) so long as we treat the animals with the kindness, care, and respect they deserve.


Many arguments on both sides of the debate make valid statements. Ultimately, working to further human causes by means other than the use of animals would be ideal.


Reasons Why Animals Should Have Rights?

lion and human
Credit: Image by Sarah Richter on Pixabay


Animals are living, breathing beings with just as much “right” to live a free and enriching life as we do. As humans, we can tend to overestimate our own importance. Still, if history has proven anything, it’s the fact that animals are much better adapted for living in harmony with nature than we are.


Just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should. What kind of people would we be if we picked on everyone smaller and weaker than us or those who couldn’t fight back? Some would say that our relationship with animals is based entirely on our dominance of them, an ideology that stems from historical concepts that abusing those weaker than ourselves is okay. (For example, the survival of the fittest).


In the modern world, we strive to look after the weak or vulnerable people in our communities, so why shouldn’t we do the same for animals?


cow in the alps
Credit: Image by Wikimedia Commons


When you consider that we breed animals so that we can eat their babies, we force them into cages so that people can stare at them all day long, we rub chemicals in their eyes so that we can wear new makeup ranges, and we shoot them just for fun – it seems pretty brutal. With a growing body of evidence that proves both the intellect and emotional intelligence of a range of animals, how can we justify treating them in this way?


The Challenges Regarding Animal Rights

mouse lab testing science
Credit: Image by Tibor Janosi Mozes on Pixabay


There’s no doubt that animals deserve rights. They are living beings that exist alongside us and have no less of a right to a happy life than we do. Still, giving animals full rights to freedom and autonomy creates some difficulties for humans that are also hard to justify. We rely on many animals for survival, even though they don’t need us to ensure their survival.


For example, we would no longer be able to experiment on animals which would severely hamper the advancement of medical advances and could put millions of lives in danger. In addition, without animals as a food source, we would have to create sustainable sources of plant-based foods to feed over eight billion people.


animal rights group
Credit: Image by Wikimedia Commons


Animals play such an integral role in our societies that it would be a great challenge to try and disentangle their roles within our lives and communities. Still, we could take steps to eliminate the exploitation and even protect local wildlife. You don’t have to believe in animal rights to agree that we should not shoot animals for sport or lock them up in cages and make them perform.


Animal rights have been a contentious issue for centuries and will continue to be one. The best we can all strive for is treating all living beings with the care and respect they deserve.

Donna Hobson
byDonna Hobson

Donna believes that keeping a pet is the key to a happy life. Over the years, many creatures have passed through her home - Sooty the cat, Millie the rabbit, Stuart (Little) the guinea pig, and Trixie the tortoise, alongside her pet goldfish, Zippy, who lived to the grand old age of 24 years! She currently resides with her black kitten Jinx and an aquarium full of fish and snails to entrance them both. When she is not looking after her pets, Donna enjoys researching and writing the answers to all your pet-related wonders.