Ethics of Animal Welfare

“The topic was very interesting, so for me was the most enjoying part, but also the debate between the…”
Marco Magaletti, Switzerland
“E-learning, as provided by Elevate, is a good opportunity to do part of the MIH on a distance.”
Tabitha Kievit, student, Tokyo - Japan

An obese dog, stranded whales or a lame cow.

These are just a few examples of the many situations in which animal welfare plays a central role. There is a clear increase of public attention for animal welfare. Both traditional and social media pay a lot of attention to animals and their welfare, and people often have clear views on what they think to be good or bad for an animal. This attention to animal welfare is not limited to the level of personal views and opinions or restricted to the Western world only. Animal welfare is on the public agenda.

This position of animal welfare implies that those who are professionally involved with animals should not only be able to discuss and assess animal welfare in empirical terms, but should also be able to address its ethical dimension. This ethical dimension shows that animal welfare is special: it not about facts and figures only, but is intrinsically related to values and ethical principles. Science can answer questions of “what is”, but to ultimately answer questions concerning animal welfare one must also deliberate and answer questions about “what ought to be” and what is desirable.

The aim of this unique course on animal welfare ethics is to make you aware of the ethical dimensions of dealing with animal and animal welfare issues. Although there are many online medical courses available about ethics in general or animal welfare in particular, these subjects are rarely addressed in combination. Yet any discussion of animal welfare requires an ability to understand and debate the ethical background and moral aspects involved.

Animal welfare ethics is interdisciplinary

Veterinarians, as well as scientists, managers and policymakers working in the field of animal welfare, care or management, will therefore find this interdisciplinary course highly useful. It offers knowledge and tools that will enable you to deal with ethical questions on both a theoretical and a practical level. The course provides room to choose your own case study to apply the course materials to a field or theme that is most relevant to you.

During this course, you will learn about ethical questions specific to dealing with animals, scientific and moral concepts of animal welfare, societal frames, the differences between ´animal rights´ and ´animal welfare´ approaches, ethical tools that can be useful in addressing practical ethical questions, and practical dilemmas.



Learning objectives

By the end of this animal welfare ethics course, you will be able to:

  • Understand the ethical dimensions of dealing with animal (welfare) issues in your professional life
  • Use the knowledge and tools you have gained to deal with ethical questions both on a theoretical and a practical level

Course topics

  • Introduction to applied ethics

The basic principles of ethics

  • Why are animals morally relevant?

Ethical questions specific to our dealings with animals

  • Animal welfare between sciene and society

Relating scientific concepts of animal welfare to moral and societal frameworks

  • Animal welfare in context

This part will address whether the difference in context is relevant for animal welfare considerations.

  • Beyond animal welfare

In this part the origins of animal rights approaches are discussed and we will focus on how rights and welfare are related.

  • How to apply ethics? Tools and frameworks

Ethical tools that can be useful in addressing practical ethical questions

Learning methods

The whole course will take place online. The following learning methods will be used:

  • Virtual lectures that aim to raise awareness and transfer knowledge
  • Self-directed learning that includes studying texts relating to small assignments
  • A discussion platform that enables you to interact with other participants. The aim is to improve the overall level of reflection while enabling you to share your insights, in order to deepen your understanding of the course material.
  • Personal assignments. These have a dual aim:
    - To link the course content to your own practical professional situation
    - To evaluate your knowledge and skills level


As Ethics of Animal Welfare is a university course, it is covered by academic accreditation. Upon successful completion of the course, you will receive a recognized certificate from Utrecht University.


To successfully complete this course, you need to participate actively in the discussion forums and complete the learning unit assignments, including:

  • Individual and group assignments
  • Peer feedback
  • Final assignment: submitting a paper (max. 3500 words). The submission deadline will be announced as soon as possible. You are allowed to redo the final assignment once.

Entry requirements

To enroll in this course, you need:

  • A BSc or BA qualification in a subject related to ethics or animal welfare
  • Sufficient proficiency in English reading and writing

Please note
As this is an online course, you do need access to an internet connection in order to be able to follow lectures, complete assignments and communicate with fellow participants.

Course staff


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