Effects of Disease on Farm Animal Welfare

Effects of Disease on Farm Animal Welfare.

There is now a considerable body of scientific evidence that farm animals are sentient and can suffer and therefore the effects of disease on mental well-being, e.g. fear, distress,  anxiety, do affect their welfare. 

This article seeks to highlight  the potential to reduce individual animal suffering.
  • Infectious  diseases  are  caused  by  pathogens  that  might  be  viruses,  bacteria, fungi,  protozoa,  endoparasites  or  ectoparasites.   They  spread  directly  from  animal  to  animal or indirectly via the environment  or  contaminated equipment or carriers, such as birds or insects.
  • Non-infectious  health  problems  include  injuries  such  as  fractures,  abrasions  or  swellings;  tumors  and  non-malignant  growths  (e.g.  warts),  which  may  or  may  not  cause pain  depending on their location on the animal, size, potential for necrosis and  secondary infection; lameness due to e.g. bone abnormalities,  fractures, joint disease  such  as  osteoarthritis  and  hoof  horn  injuries;  dental  problems  inhibiting  eating
  • Good physical health is essential to good welfare, but is not sufficient in itself because it does not necessarily lead to a good mental state. Conversely, poor productivity, e.g. infertility, may be indicative of an underlying disease but may not always be a cause of suffering.


  • Diseased animals suffer from impaired welfare because of the direct physical  (fever, inflammation, respiratory distress)  and  psychological effects of the disease,  (pain, anxiety or fear). There may also be abnormalities  that are undetectable such as headache or depression.
  • Indirect effects of disease may include reduced physical ability to  access  feed,  water or other resources and reduced motivation to express  normal behaviours such as  play. There may also be indirect effects of a disease on other animals in a group, such  as an inability to suckle.
  • An animal that is unable to exhibit  motivated behaviours, e.g. suckling or rooting or has a physiological need, e.g. hunger,  may develop inappropriate  behaviours in an  attempt to regain homeostasis.
  • There have been many attempts to define animal welfare. In our view, welfare encompasses  both physical  and  mental  health,  and for farm  animals  is  largely  determined by the skills of the stock people, the system of husbandry and the suitability of the genotype for the environment.

In considering what provisions should be made for farm animals to avoid unnecessary  suffering  and  to  promote  good  welfare,  the  Committee(Farm Animal Welfare Committee)  is  guided  by  the  Five Freedoms:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst,  by ready access to fresh water and a diet to  maintain full health and vigor.
  •  Freedom  from  discomfort,  by  providing  an  appropriate  environment  including  shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  • Freedom  from  pain,  injury  and  disease,  by  prevention  or  rapid  diagnosis  and  treatment.
  • Freedom to express normal behavior,  by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal‘s own kind.
  • Freedom  from  fear  and  distress,  by  ensuring  conditions  and  treatment  which  avoid mental suffering.

If you made it to the end of this article, don’t forget to check out our other post on “effect of animal diseases on the economy here.

Written by:- Dr. Musa MANSUR AHMAD