Glossary of Animal-Related Terms

Glossary of Animal-Related Terms



abolition. A social justice movement that advocates fortotal elimination, versus the reform, of some form of oppression, enslavement, or abuse. For animal rights, this means advocating for empty cages not larger cages.

absolute rights. Due to the sentient nature of animals they have certain absolute rights, (for example, the right to be free from slavery and servitude) which cannot be limited in any way, at any time, for any reason, not even by the state in circumstances which threaten the life of the nation.

ag-gag laws. A term coined in 2011 by Mark Bittman to describe laws that prohibit the making of undercover videos, sound recordings or photographs in animal agriculture facilities and farms. The bills and related laws apply equally to journalists, activists and employees.

alpha animal – The animal that ranks highest in his/her social group.

animal advocacy. Promotion of the interests of animals, generally. Includes work for animal rights and animal welfare.

Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). Federal law fast-tracked through Congress in 2006 that severely restricts Americans’ freedom of speech and assembly rights and labels as terrorism any act that so much as “interferes” with businesses that deal with or profit from animal use or animal products.

Animal Liberation Front (ALF). Name used by individuals, whose identities are concealed, and who independently carry out direct actions on behalf of animals, such as the covert rescue of animals from research labs. Property destruction and other illegal actions intended to prevent or impede future harm to animals or to economically weaken animal-exploiting industries is frequently involved. There is no membership, no leadership, and no structure to the ALF.

animal rights. Refers to the position that the interests of nonhuman animals, including their interest in living and not suffering, should be afforded the same consideration as the interests of humans, and that nonhuman animals have rights and inherent value independent of their usefulness to humans. Major animal rights campaigns include promoting veganism and eliminating the use of animals in farming, research, fashion, and entertainment.

animal welfare. Refers to the well-being and treatment of nonhuman animals by humans. The animal welfare position objects to what it considers unnecessary suffering and seeks to improve treatment of animals, but it does not object to animal use generally or to harm that it considers necessary or justifiable in pursuit of human goals.

anthropocentric. Placing humans at the center of one’s world, as though all other life forms are relatively unimportant or inferior to humans. A human-centric perspective.

anthropomorphism. Attributing to nonhuman animals human features, motivations, and behaviors, thinking that animal needs and wants are the same as human needs and wants.

ape. any of a group of anthropoid primates characterized by long arms and the absence of a tail, comprising the family Pongidae (greatape), which includes the chimpanzee, gorilla, and orangutan, and the family Hylobatidae (lesserape)that includes the gibbon and siamang. They are members of the Homininae together with humans and are characterized by a large brain to body size ratio.

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.


backyard breeding. The practice of keeping one or more animals (usually dogs but including cats) for the purpose of breeding them, usually for profit, or the practice of allowing the animal to breed (rather than having the animal spayed or neutered).

barrow. A young castrated male pig.

battery hens. Hens used for egg production who are confined, several birds at a time, to cramped, dark cages and sent to slaughter when their egg production declines. See battery cage and forced molting.

battery cage. Small wire cage, stacked among thousands of other cages, inside a large, windowless shed and containing multiple chickens each. Battery cages do not afford the animals even enough room to stand, move about, or spread their wings. Each hen’s individual space is typically smaller than a sheet of notebook paper. See debeaking and forced molting.

bodily integrity. Animals have an interest in not having their bodies violated against their will. This includes having their physical boundaries invaded, having injuries inflicted on them, or being forced into reproductive processes. It is in their interest to maintain the integrity, i.e. the wholeness and undiminished state, of their physical body and for that state to be unimpaired by others. The violation of an animal’s bodily integrity is required on a routine basis in the animal agricultural industry in the form of artificial insemination, semen harvesting, branding, tail docking, castration, milking and shearing, amongst other common practices.

broiler chicken. The term used for chickens raised and slaughtered for their flesh in the poultry industry, typically raised in a warehouse. Bred to be profitable, they grow twice as fast as their bodies were naturally designed to, so fast that their hearts, lungs, and legs cannot support their bodies.

bullhook. Also called an ankus or elephant hook. A cruel so-called tool used by trainers to brutalize and control elephants in circuses.

~ C ~

CAFO. Confined animal feeding operation. See factory farming.

cetacean. (Animals) of, relating to, or belonging to the Cetacea, an order of aquatic placental mammals having no hind limbs and a blowhole for breathing: includes toothed whales (dolphins, porpoises, etc) and whalebone whales (rorquals, right whales, etc)

cage-free. A term used mostly for the marketing of eggs to imply they do not use battery cages. The term is not regulated and does not guarantee so-called humane treatment. Most birds in operations labeled as cage-free still suffer the same injuries, cruelties, and disregard as their counterparts on factory farms. See debeaking. See battery cage.

castration. The act of cutting off a male animal’s genitals. Bull calves, piglets, and other animals endure this excruciating mutilation without any painkillers.

cognition. Refers to mental processes such as consciousness, intelligence, self-awareness, thought, and decision making. See sentience.

charismatic megafauna. Animals with widespread popular appeal.

cognitive dissonance. The anxiety and distress we feel when our beliefs, feelings and behaviour are not in alignment. For example when we eat farmed animals, but love our companion animals, this causes cognitive dissonance. The coping mechanism we use to alleviate our suffering is called compartmentalisation.

commodification. When living beings are treated as resources that can be bought and sold. Instead of seeing a whole moral person, we objectify them, reducing their status to objects and viewing them as body parts, which we name in such a way as to further distance ourselves from the knowledge that they belong to someone who needs them in order to live.

companion animal. Term referring to the animals with whom humans most commonly share their lives and homes, for example, dogs, cats, and rabbits. Preferred by many animal advocates to the word “pet.”

compartmentalization. A coping method to alleviate ourselves from cognitive dissonance. We disassociate conflicting beliefs, feelings and behaviours, which enables us to apply differing moral value systems in different scenarios. For example, feeling comfortable with loving and respecting animals, while at the same being aware that we are causing them untold suffering by killing and eating them is problematic, so we separate our love and respect for animals and assign those feelings and beliefs exclusively to animals we know. We then create a totally different paradigm for the animals we eat and view them as objects, resources and property to satisfy our palate pleasure.

compassion. Feeling strong empathy for the suffering of another and demonstrating a strong desire to alleviate their suffering. Considering the impact of our actions on others and discontinuing activities that would cause them suffering. True compassion towards animals protects their rights to life, freedom and bodily integrity absolutely. There are no compromises and no betrayals of their trust. Compassion is not an insincere or condescending notion of offering a lesser being mercy. It is a skill that needs to be practiced where we give of ourselves for the benefit of others.

cruelty-free. A term used to refer to products and practices that eliminate intentional cruelty and harm. For example, personal care products that contain no animal ingredients and that are not tested on animals may bear a “cruelty-free” label or emblem, such as the Leaping Bunny logo.

~ D ~

debarking. The surgical removal and manipulation of tissue in a dog’s vocal cords to drastically quiet his or her natural bark. This practice is especially common in research laboratories using dogs. Debarking does not address the underlying reasons that a dog may be barking excessively, and the dog will continue to bark, albeit more quietly or silently. Illegal in the United Kingdom, it is still allowed in the United States.

debeaking. The mutilation of a young bird’s beak. The days-old chick or weeks-old turkey is held tightly while a hot guillotine-like blade is used to slice off one-third to one-half of the bird’s beak, through horn, bone, and highly sensitive tissue. The severe immediate pain persists even following the mutilation, which also permanently hinders the bird’s ability to properly eat, drink, and preen. The agriculture industry says they use this technique to keep the birds from pecking at each other in tight confinement.

declawing. The surgical removal of a cat’s claws, in a painful procedure akin to cutting off toes up to the first knuckle. Recovery is painful as well, given that the cat must continue to walk on and use the litter box with freshly operated-on paws. Illegal and considered inhumane in the United Kingdom and other European countries, it is still a common practice in the United States.

direct action. A general term referring to various forms of protest and activism, ranging from protests to boycotts to leafleting to the covert or open rescue of animals (on the latter topic, see Animal Liberation Front and open rescue).

dissection. The practice of cutting open or into a dead animal or separating the parts of the animal to examine the tissue and internal structure. It is still common in secondary schools and colleges, but students are increasingly voicing their opposition and demanding alternatives.

Draize test. Infamous and excruciating eye-irritation test for household products and cosmetics in which drops of a substance are placed in the eyes of rabbits, causing the animals ulcers, blindness, and other injuries before they are ultimately killed.

~ E ~

ear cropping. An unnecessary, painful cosmetic surgery performed on dogs in which a large part of the ear flap is cut off to make the ear stand erect. Illegal in the United Kingdom and other countries but still legal and common in the United States.

economics. Animal products are produced in order to fulfill the demand. Suppliers operate as businesses that are motivated by turnover and profit. If the demand for a product declines, they will either advertise to increase the demand, or diversify into producing products that will yield a higher turnover. This is why abolitionists focus on reducing the demand for animal products.

environmental enrichment. Adding complexity to the animal’s enclosure (such as a cage or pen) 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.”

ethology. The study of animal behavior.

exploitation. The use, often harmful or unfair, of another being for one’s own advantage or pleasure (e.g., for food, clothing, research, and entertainment in the case of animals).

euthanasia. The killing, or the allowance of the death of, a being out of mercy and for the sake of the animal, when that being is “hopelessly sick or injured.” Imprecise, euphemistic use of the term to refer to the killing of healthy animals is controversial.

factory farming. The industrial, large-scale system of meat, dairy, and egg production in which extreme confinement and the most inhumane of animal cruelties are standard.

~ F ~

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.

flank strap. A strap pulled tightly and painfully around a rodeo horse’s sensitive abdomen just as the chute opens, to force the horse into bucking, as the horse tries to escape the pain and discomfort caused by the strap. Also known as a bucking strap.

foie gras. Translated literally as “fatty liver” and served as a delicacy, foie gras is the result of immense cruelties. Young ducks are force-fed massive of amounts of food two to three times a day through metal pipes shoved down their throats. In a few short weeks, the livers of these sick, tortured animals have grown to 10 times their normal size, at which time the ducks are slaughtered and their livers sold for consumption.

forced molting. The egg-industry practice of artificially inducing hens to molt by depriving them of food for several days to two weeks when their egg production has declined. Following the molting, egg production increases.

free-range. A description and label applied to certain chicken and egg farms that many assume ensures some kind of natural, happy life for the animals. In reality, “free range” is not a well-regulated label, and most of these animals still suffer in confined, poor conditions for most or all of their lives. See cage-free.

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gene pharming. The use of transgenic animals (and sometimes plants) to produce medicines or other pharmaceutical products.

gestation. Time elapsing from conception until birth.

gestation crate. Narrow metal crate in which a mother pig spends almost her entire adult life in the pork industry, with not enough room to even turn around.

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happy meat. Depicts the incongruous nature of the humane farming myth. If the treatment of animals is considered more humane (presumably on a less intensively-confined farm), then the assumption would be that the animals are happy. This does not take into account the entirety of their life situation from the hatcheries to slaughterhouses, their lack of options and freedom related to their bodies and babies, and their premature death. They are not queuing up at ‘humane’ slaughterhouses and saying “Please kill me here.”

hatchery. Virtually all chickens raised and killed for eggs, including those at so-called humane operations, come from hatcheries. At only a day or two old, half of the chicks born at hatcheries (primarily the males) are ground up alive, gassed, or thrown alive into trash bags, where they suffocate to death: male chicks, who cannot produce eggs, and deformed female chicks are useless to the egg industry.

humane myth. Debunking the claim that it is possible to raise animals for food in a tender, compassionate manner. Making a statement that the exploitation of animals and the violation of their rights is the antithesis of being kind.

hunt sab. Intentional sabotage of an organized hunting expedition by such means as alerting the animals with horns, masking the pursued animals’ scent or creating noise and distractions when humans are using hounds to track the animals, and engaging in patrols to document and thwart illegal hunting attempts.

~ I ~

incremental welfare improvements. New regulations that attempt to reduce the suffering of animals used in industry, but do not challenge the property status of animals. They specifically legalise presumably less cruel methods of mutilation and slaughter of farmed animals for the purposes of human consumption.

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.

~ J, K ~

~ L ~

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

legal person. The animal rights movement strives to upgrade the legal status of animals from property to that of ‘legal persons’ for limited legal purposes. This will ensure that animals are recognised as legal entities having distinct identity, legal personality, and rights. Furthermore, it will be possible to pursue legal action in order to defend these rights. The laws surrounding personhood are a social justice issue which have previously been debated during the abolition of slavery and the fight for women’s rights.

~ M ~

matriarch. A predominant female in a social hierarchy.

molting (poultry). Seasonal shedding feathers of birds.

monkey. any mammal of the order Primates, including the guenons, macaques, langurs, and capuchins, but excluding humans, the anthropoid apes, and, usually, the tarsier and prosimians. Compare New World monkey, Old World monkey.

mulseing. The wool-industry practice of slicing large chunks of flesh from around the sheep’s tail area, for the purpose of managing flystrike (which results from flies laying eggs in the moist folds of the sheep’s skin), without any anesthesia or painkiller.

~ N ~

non-human animal. Humans are merely one species of animal. We call all other species ‘animals’, whereas, the correct term is ‘non-human’ animals. We also tend to forget that humans are mammals, just as are cows, goats, dolphins and sheep etc.

no-kill. Refers to the movement for no-kill policies and shelters, where only unadoptable animals or those unable to be rehabilitated are killed. Animals are not killed just due to lack of space or resources.

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.” The agribusiness industry sometimes refers to these individuals as “downed cows.” They are often dragged to slaughter.

~ O ~

open rescue. A rescue of captive animals conducted openly, without masks or other efforts to hide identity. Open rescue efforts seek to document cruelties, publicize, and educate in addition to rescuing animals in need.

oxymoron. A term that contradicts itself. For example: ‘humane slaughter’. An act of cruelty cannot be kind.

~ P ~
piling (poultry). Voluntary accumulation of individuals in a small area which may cause some to be buried under others. Piling is observed in cold temperatures, drafts, or by events inducing fear and escape responses.

primate. Any member of the group that includes human beings, apes, and monkeys.

property status of animals. Animals are currently classified as things, objects, commodities, resources, property and even described as machines in some agricultural textbooks. This disregards their sentience, disqualifies them from being members of the moral community and their needs are subjugated to those of humans. This legal status facilitates the use of animals for food, clothing, scientific experiments and entertainment etc.

puppy mills. Large-scale dog-breeding operations notorious for their substandard care and cruelties, including overbreeding, overcrowding, lack of veterinary care, and inadequate food and shelter. Puppy mills sell through pet stores, Web sites, and advertisements.

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~ R ~

rape rack. The brutal, but accurate, industry term referring to the contraptions in which female cows and pigs are restrained while they are forcibly inseminated.

~ S ~

sapience. Awareness of being aware that comes with sentience.

sentience. The ability to experience pain, pleasure, and other sensations; the capacity to suffer. Chickens, pigs, cows, rabbits, dogs, cats, rats, monkeys, and elephants, for example, like the vast majority of other animals, are sentient. 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.

silk. A liquid substance produced by silkworms that hardens upon contact with the air and forms the silkworm’s cocoon. So that humans can retrieve the intact silk thread that makes up the cocoon (i.e., before the silkworm breaks the cocoon to emerge), the silkworms are boiled, baked, or steamed alive while still inside their cocoons.

speciesism. Discrimination on the basis of species; oppression and judgment of an animal on the basis of that animal’s species or that animal’s non-membership in a species. The belief in human superiority over other animals or certain nonhuman animals’ superiority over others.

spent. An industry term for egg-laying (battery) hens and dairy cows whose egg and milk production has declined enough that they are no longer profitable. Spent hens and cows are sent to slaughter at a fraction of their natural lifespan.

stereotypic behavior. Repetitive behaviors commonly seen in captive animals and likely induced by stress and lack of appropriate stimuli (e.g., overgrooming among primates, pacing among tigers, and the swaying of elephants). 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.

suffering. Mental anguish caused by physical or mental pain and discomfort. Farmed animals suffer in many ways, the very least being their confinement and the obfuscation of their natural desire for autonomy over their lives. Despite the fact it is a highly subjective concept, animal welfare pragmatically quantifies the suffering of farm animals into ‘necessary’ and ‘unnecessary’ suffering categories. Considering that they accept the consumption of animals as being morally acceptable, then mutilation, isolation, artificial insemination and slaughter all fall within their questionable definition of necessary suffering.

sustainable. A viable solution for human lifestyle requirements that will ensure the health of our planet’s ecosystem and its ability to support plentiful life on Earth indefinitely.

~ T ~

tail biting (swine). Mouthing, chewing, or rigorous biting of the tails of other pigs by pigs, often ones kept in close confinement. Tail biting can lead to injury and death.

tail docking. Among dogs, the surgical amputation of the tail, usually for cosmetic reasons. The tails of pigs are docked because the stress and boredom of their lives in confinement can lead to tail-chewing.

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 dairy 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.

~ U ~

utilitarianism. An ethical philosophy in which moral decisions are based on the utility of an action in terms of producing a greater good or benefits to the majority. In this line of thinking, human and nonhuman interests are afforded the same value, but an act harmful to an animal is permissible if the benefit to the human is greater than the cost to the animal. Utilitarianism bears more similarities to animal welfare than to animal rights. See Peter Singer’s work for more on this topic.

~ V ~

veal. The culinary term for the flesh of a young calf (under 3 months) and a byproduct of the dairy industry. Calves are taken from their mothers (dairy cows) shortly after birth, confined, and placed on a formula or other substandard diet until they are slaughtered at 5 to 6 months of age. Humans consume the mother cow’s milk. Veal typically comes from dairy bull calves who are not otherwise useful to the dairy industry, as they don’t produce milk. See veal crate.

veal crate. Small crate in which a calf being raised for veal is confined and tied up. The calf’s movement within the crate is intentionally restricted to limit the strengthening of muscle, and an insufficient diet is provided intentionally to keep the cow anemic: veal is preferred tender and pale in color. See veal.

veganism. As defined by the Vegan Society, the founders of which coined the term: “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practical, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” Vegans do not consume meat, dairy, eggs, or other animal byproducts; do not wear clothing derived from animals, such as leather, fur, and wool; and do not use products containing animal ingredients.

vegetarianism, lacto-ovo. A diet that excludes all animal flesh (including beef, poultry, and fish) but that includes dairy and eggs. Vegetarians may or may not still use clothing and products derived from animals. Some people may use the term “pescatarian” to indicate that they do not eat land animals and eat flesh only from sea animals (fish); however, this is not a form of vegetarianism, as the latter term indicates eschewing all animal flesh.

veg*n or veg*an. An inclusive term referring to the categories of lacto-ovo vegetarians and vegans together.

vivisection. Cutting or operating on a live animal. The term also refers more generally to experimentation on animals for medical research and product testing. Vivisection includes the cutting, burning, infecting, drugging, starving, blinding, and killing of animals for research, for the testing of drugs and treatments, and for the testing of consumer products, such as cleaners, food additives, and cosmetics.

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~ X ~

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


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~ Z ~

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.


Collins English Dictionary.