4- Freedom from Fear and Distress

This week we will be discussing the fourth of the Five Freedoms: the freedom from fear and distress. This freedom is about providing animals with conditions and treatment that do not cause them to suffer mentally or physically. Read the following blog with your students to learn more!

Have you ever heard strange noises at home that frightened you? When you heard the noises its likely that your breathing quickened, your heart started pounding, and your muscles stiffened. You might even have felt like hiding or running away from the noises. However, a few seconds later you probably relaxed as you realized the noises were just the furnace turning on.

That feeling you experienced was fear. We experience fear in response to any real or perceived threats. In the case of the noises from the furnace, it was just a perceived threat. But, if those noises turned out to be someone in your house, that would be a real threat! Either way, in both situations our body undergoes physical and behavioral changes to prepare itself for potential danger.

fear distress 1

Just like humans, animals are also able to experience fear. Fear is not only unpleasant, but it can also have an impact on an animal’s health. An animal that is constantly exposed to conditions that make them fearful will experience poor mental and physical health. Mentally, the animal will become very alert and will regularly feel overwhelmed and worried. Physically, the animal may experience digestion issues, heart problems, and difficulty sleeping and eating. It’s important that we treat animals well and provide them with conditions that prevent them from feeling fear.

So, how do we provide our animals with a stress-free environment? First, we learn about what animals are afraid of. Different species have different fears, so it is important to find out exactly what you should and shouldn’t be introducing into your animal’s environment. For example, cows are afraid of many harmless things such as shadows, flags, painted lines, loose chains, and plastic bags. Therefore, it is important to try and eliminate as many of these things as possible from their environment. At the same time, you can change different things about the environment to make it more stress-free for animals. For instance, cow operations can adopt non-slip flooring, rounded runways, and solid fences (rather than slotted) to ensure a less stressful experience for their cows. Farmers can also reduce stress by actively cleaning up any garbage, misplaced clothing, or puddles that are in a cow’s environment.

How we treat our animals can also have an effect on their stress levels. When we are training and disciplining our animals it is important that we use humane techniques. Using positive reinforcement – such as giving your dog a treat, a pet or a toy when they are learning – is the best way to ensure you are not distressing them while training. On the other hand, techniques that use physical punishment, such as hitting are unacceptable as they can cause fear, anxiety and distress. Research has shown that dogs trained using positive reinforcement performed new tasks better, are more playful, interact more positively with strangers and had a better relationship with their handlers.

Distress is a term that can be used to describe both mental suffering such as fear, loneliness, and anxiety or physical suffering such hunger, illness or pain for an injury. An animal may be in distress if their Five Freedoms are not met adequately. Look back on the past blogs to see else may cause distress. Once we are aware of what causes distress we are more able to prevent it!

That’s the end of our discussion on fear and distress! Its not always possible to prevent your animal from feeling fear, as many factors are beyond our control. In order to avoid distress, it’s important to try your best to care for our animals by meeting their five freedoms to the best of our abilities.

Be sure to tune in next week where we will talk about the last of the Five Freedoms: the freedom to express normal behavior!

Discussion Questions:

1.What are situations when you feel fear?

2.What situations do you know of that pets my feel fear?

Different species of animals have different fears, especially if they are typically prey animals like rabbits. Some answer would include thunder, other loud noises, strangers, other animals, etc.

3.How could you help to reduce their fear?

4. What can cause distress?

Look back at past blogs! Hunger, thirst, illness, injury, disease, discomfort (no shelter, suitable resting area), etc.  

Classroom Activities:

1.Vocabulary explosion: With some of the vocabulary and concepts used in this blog, have students look up the definition and then use a thesaurus to find synonyms. Students can create word explosions to display in the classroom. Discuss the nuances of the synonyms with your students.

Example vocabulary: content, fear, safe, distress, comfort, positive, etc.

word explosion


2.Part of our provincial legislation says that it is unlawful to cause or permit an animal to be in distress. What does distress mean according to Alberta’s Animal Protection Act? Do you think its important to have laws to protect animals? Do you think this is a good law? Why or why not.

3.Clicker training is a positive way to train animals (dogs, cats, chickens, horses can all be trained with a clicker). Research how people use clickers to train animals and why it works.

Thanks to Kelsey Neill for her work on this blog series! Learn more about Kelsey here. 

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