Animals have been used to entertain human beings throughout history. Over the last century, this has only increased as the film, television and advertising industries have developed. It has largely been an unregulated area, and there is minimal specific legislation in the United Kingdom and beyond to protect animals used in entertainment and exhibition, despite the UK having an international reputation as leaders in animal welfare legislation and enforcement.

Despite this reputation, or perhaps as a consequence of it, like many other countries worldwide, there is currently no direct regulation of the use of animals in entertainment and exhibition. In England the closest legislation comes is the licencing of animal trainers and keepers which focuses on where the animals are kept when not in use. Whilst this legislation has some benefit to animals used in exhibition, it falls short of protecting hundreds, maybe thousands of animals used for our entertainment.

The purpose of this article is to focus on the welfare of those animals used in entertainment and exhibition (often referred to as ‘performing animals’). I’ll try to explain what is meant by the term welfare, what can be done to improve it and what the future may hold for animals used in the entertainment industry as well as offering some advice to those planning on using animals in a production in the near future.

I’ll start by defining the term ‘Performing animal’ or ‘animals in entertainment and exhibition’? It should be defined as ‘any animal taken away from its usual home environment and/or asked to perform specific behaviours for the purpose of entertainment and/or exhibition.’

These behaviours can range from the seemingly simple, like a herd/flock of animals placed in a field as background to a scene, to the more complex movements such as training specific movements of an animal as it interacts with cast members whilst other actions and effects are taking place. It should be noted that often what may seem like a ‘simple’ behaviour can in fact be far more complex based on the environment the animal is being asked to ‘perform’ in.

When we refer to entertainment and exhibition, this can range from the more familiar productions such as film, television and advertising to things such as live events, photo shoots and even social media influencing using animals. Through this article I will use the general term ‘production’ to cover all the above.

Whilst I have witnessed many scenarios in which the welfare of animals in productions could be improved and often with simple adjustments based on understanding the animals’ behavioural and environmental needs, there is still a reluctance within the production industry to make animal welfare a priority. We know that every year 1000s of animals are used in different productions across the UK alone with no requirement for independent advice or monitoring and no minimum or higher standards or codes of practise.

I have heard a number of reasons given for not having animal welfare input ranging from;

‘We don’t have a budget for that’ or ‘It’s not a necessity’, ‘we don’t understand why we’d need it’ ‘we’ll have a vet on set on the day’ or ‘the animal trainer will tell us if there is something wrong’

Improvements to animal welfare often do not cost huge amounts of money and, in my experience, money can often be saved by finding solutions that reduce the time animals are required whilst still achieving the desired effect for the audience.

In the UK, as set out in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 those responsible for animals whether on a permanent or temporary basis, in this case Productions, have a legal responsibility to provide a suitable environment for animals they invite onto the production both on-set and off-set.

Animal trainers should tell you when something is wrong but like all professions, there are some that are better than others, both in their knowledge and understanding of animal welfare and behaviour and their ability to speak up for their animal. I should point out that this is, for many animal suppliers, their livelihood and therefore the decisions they make are often to protect their reputation and standing within the industry more than it is to improve welfare.

It is an oxymoron to say that an animal supplier will always do the very best for an animal’s welfare because the very best way protect an animal’s welfare is to not use it in the first place.

I must emphasise that I do NOT believe in banning animals for use in entertainment but more I believe animals can and should play an important role in the entertainment and exhibition industry by educating and influencing the audience in how to treat animals properly. With that in mind I must emphasise there are some excellent trainers who work across the industry and around the world with all types of animals which leads to my next point.

As an audience watching a production on tv,  in the cinema or online, there is currently no way to tell how well animals have been treated in the making of a production. As a trainer and a production company, I would want the audience to know I have done a good job to protect the animals. This can only enhance the reputation of both. Awards are given out every year to the best actors, directors, producers, editors, special effects etc but there is no reward for the productions or trainers that go above and beyond to protect animal welfare. There are numerous headlines and stories published about some of the worst things that have happened to animals on film and television sets and there are countless anecdotal examples of poor welfare practise but rarely do you see stories of how well animals are treated or how productions have set examples of good welfare and considered the ethical impact of using animals in a production.

Whilst there are organisations that will give certificates if animals are not harmed, notwithstanding the fact that nearly all these are American organisations working for American financed productions, these certificates don’t champion all aspects of welfare but concentrate on reducing the risk of physical injury and it appears to be a pass or fail system without a minimum standard and a higher standard to encourage improvement.

To make improvements in the industry for the future of animals I believe there needs to be a strategy that encompasses the following;

·         More transparency over the use of animals on productions

·         Animal welfare representation on productions to monitor and advise on the use of animals and how to improve welfare

·         Budgets set by commissioners to include a sperate budget for animal welfare advice and monitoring

·         Training opportunities for production staff at all levels to increase the understanding around the impact on animals’ welfare

·         Industry guidelines that incorporate minimum and higher standards for productions to attain and aspire to.

·         Better legislation around licensing to bring more responsibility on productions and agents who are still using animals not covered under current licensing

·         Awards and recognition for productions and trainers that go above and beyond their obligations to improve the welfare of animals used for entertainment

To achieve all of the above needs buy-in from stakeholders across the industry including commissioners, producers, animal trainers, studios, broadcasters, external animal welfare organisations and anyone involved in using animals for our entertainment.

In the current climate my advice to productions planning on using animals would be;

When animals are in a script, the first consideration should be whether live animals are needed at all. Often, alternatives to live animals can still create the same effect for the audience, whether it be puppetry or CGI. I appreciate there is a cost implication to using puppetry and CGI and the industry is not in a place where CGI can fully replace the use of animals. It should also be noted that even where CGI can and is used there is often still a requirement to use a live animal.

Productions should get access to good knowledge. Animal welfare advisors can advise how a production will impact on welfare. I wouldn't expect people working in production to fully understand all aspects of animal welfare but if they have some guidance from an expert, it can often make working with animals easier for everyone.

Animal welfare advisors should be viewed like Health & Safety advisors. It is a preventative role. Veterinary surgeons, like paramedics on set, are reactive roles who have the knowledge and expertise to deal with incidents after they occur but it is important to realise not all paramedics are health and safety advisors and not all vets working in the entertainment industry are animal welfare advisors.

I have been on set with a vet who had no equipment with them to deal with an emergency. Admitted he had not seen the species of animal on set in a clinical capacity for over 30 years and didn’t spend any time observing the animals being filmed. Whilst, I hope, this was an extreme case it highlights that the role of experts should be defined and understood by the production prior to engaging them.

Productions should speak to the right people as early as possible about what EXACTLY may be required of an animal or, more importantly, what they want to portray to the audience (not always the same thing). What may seem like the simplest movements can sometimes take a lot of training. It is likely at the beginning of the process that a production and/or director will have different ideas so they shouldn’t be afraid to say ‘we may want this but we might also want this’. Try to avoid on-set, last-minute ideas as it often puts the trainers under unnecessary pressure to get an animal to do something it hasn’t trained for.

By speaking to advisors at the earliest opportunity in pre-production, productions can ensure a suitable environment is in place for animals before they arrive. This can save time and money and gives a far greater chance of achieving what is required. This includes scheduling. I fully appreciate that a set can be fluid in its schedule but productions should appreciate that last minute changes increase the risk of impacting an animal’s welfare. Therefore, productions should avoid bringing animals to set until they are required and send them home at the earliest opportunity. Before scheduling is done, talk to the trainers about when would be best to use the animal as some would work better depending on the time of day, feed schedules and even weather conditions.

I have gone into more depth below about planning animal use, the physical and ethical impact of using animals, choosing experts including trainers and how to improve welfare conditions in a production environment.



What does welfare mean? Animal welfare traditionally referred to the five welfare needs, sometimes referred to as the five freedoms. These 5 come under the headings of

·         Behaviour; the need to express normal/natural behaviours including genetic instinct as well as learnt behaviours. Eg Most birds desire to perch at height . Pigs desire to forage.

·         Company; the need to be with or apart from other animals either of similar species or otherwise and this includes humans. Eg Keeping predator and prey species apart or keeping herd/social species together in familiar groups.

·         Diet; the need for a suitable diet given in suitable quantities and offered in a way that the animal is familiar and diet includes the need for fresh clean water.For example Cats often prefer to be fed at height and have their food and water in different places.

·         Environment; the need for a suitable environment and this includes appropriate space, light, sound and ventilation as required for the species eg reptiles need correct UV & humidity levels with a temperature gradient to help them regulate their body temperature…and finally

·         Health; the need to be protected from pain injury and disease. Probably the easiest to understand because by not doing so often leads to obvious visible suffering.


The ‘five welfare needs’ is an accepted explanation of animal welfare and is the basis for legislation in many countries including the UK, however the more modern approach to animal welfare refers to the five welfare domains.  The Five Domains is the most recent evolution of the concept of animal welfare that is accepted within scientific circles. It builds upon the five needs to allow animal welfare to be viewed in a more holistic way, recognising that a whole host of factors in animal’s lives can add up to animals being in a positive or negative mental state.


1. Nutrition

2. Physical environment

3. Behavioural Interactions

a)            Interactions with environment

b)            Interactions with other animals

c)            Interactions with humans

4. Health

1-4 all lead to;

5. Mental State -  whether that be POSITIVE or NEGATIVE


It is noticeable that there are some similarities with the welfare needs with regard to health, nutrition (diet), environment and behaviour but with the five domains these four are more defined and all lead to mental state and define how each welfare domain leaves the animal in a positive or negative mental state.

The negative mental state can cover the most serious of issues such as breathlessness, thirst, hunger, pain (there are ~30 varieties of pain), nausea, dizziness, debility, weakness and sickness, known as ‘survival critical negative effects’. But it also includes frustration, anger, helplessness, loneliness, boredom, depression, anxiety, fear, panic and hypervigilance and these are known as ‘situation related negative effects’.

The positive mental state will include comfort, pleasure, interest, attachment, confidence and a sense of being in control.

The Five Domains explain that nutrition, physical environment, health, and behavioural interactions each have significant impacts on an animal’s mental welfare. They recognise that animals can have a full range of experiences and feelings, including positive ones, and it is important to consider these when caring for animals. It is no longer enough to simply avoid negative states, but important that we enact our ability to offer animals a good quality of life even if they are only in our care temporarily.

If productions have a better understanding of the effect a production environment has on the welfare of an animal, it puts them in a far greater position to adapt and make changes to reduce the negative impact while still creating the desired effect/image.


If a production is using a ‘performing animal’ (as defined earlier), they are taking an animal from its natural (home) environment and/or asking it to perform an action it may not necessarily choose to do which will always impact on its welfare.

If you consider that everything an animal encounters directly and indirectly will have an impact on it’s welfare, whether it be positive or negative, it should be considered that an animal’s inability to adapt to an environment or stimulus will definitely have a negative impact on it’s welfare.

Research has shown us that as a species, dogs can show an amazing ability to adapt to different environments when accompanied by their human companions because of their close bond with humans. However, all animals will find each production environment it works in different to the last and therefore it will impact their welfare and if not treated with careful consideration this impact can be negative and damaging.

The likelihood of having a negative impact is much greater in wild animals due to their lack of domestication and the impact of suppressing their ability to express natural behaviours by not having an environment that allows them to express those behaviours. Wild animals have less ability to adapt to different environments and their inability to adapt can cause suffering whether that is mental or physical.

[Defining ‘Domestic’ & ‘Wild’ animals

DOMESTIC - Any animal that has been selectively bred over thousands of years for specific traits that make it better suited for living alongside humans. It is fundamentally different than its wild starting point - genetically, physically, and psychologically.

WILD – Should be Free-roaming, living in a natural habitat. In captivity they retain behavioral and physical traits of their naturally living cousins and need a similar environment to exist without having a negative impact on their mental state.

FOR CLARIFICATION – Captive bred does not equate to Domesticated.

Tame does not mean Domesticated.

Domesticated doesn’t necessarily mean living in a social structure with humans like cats and dogs do.]



As stated above, when animals are in a script, the first consideration should be whether live animals are needed at all. Often, alternatives to live animals can still create the same effect for the audience, whether it be puppetry or CGI. I appreciate there is a cost implication to using puppetry and CGI and the industry is not in a place where CGI can fully replace the use of animals. It should also be noted that even where CGI can and is used there is often still a requirement to use a live animal.

Once a production has taken the decision to use live animals they should consider what animal they need? What I mean by this is what is the most appropriate species, breed, age, and temperament of animal required to get the desired effect for the audience. Productions should consider the provenance (where it is sourced from) and the disposal of the animals (what will happen to it after the production) they are going to use.

This raises the question of reputable trainers. The industry is currently awash with animal providers. Many have years of experience in the industry. Many are excellent animal trainers and there are many who are excellent at communicating with a production how to get the best out of their animals and explaining what will and won’t work for the production. However, there are also many inexperienced animals providers, animal trainers and agents that don’t put the animal’s welfare before the pay cheque and many who’s animal is not suited to a production environment.

There are many scenarios, especially within unscripted entertainment and scripted reality shows where members of the public are invited to bring their animals onto a production. More often than not the owner has little or no experience of how the production environment will impact their animal’s welfare. Without an experienced animal welfare person on set this can have a seriously negative impact on the animal’s welfare.

Productions should also consider what will happen to the animals after you have finished using them. If a production has purchased (or commissioned the purchase) of animals specifically for use in the production a plan should be in place as to what will happen to the animals. Without a plan this leads to a risk of poor re-homing, abandonment or even unnecessary culling. This could lead to reputational risk for the production and those associated with it.

This leads to the question around the ethical use and portrayal of the animals and the influence that has on the audience. That includes the issue of using wild animals and the effect on conservation. It may also include which domestic species to use and how that influences the audience. An example being brachycephalic (flat faced) dogs and cats or dogs with pinned or cropped ears or dogs with docked tails. By using animals like this in productions it can normalise what are essentially unnecessary mutilations of an animal.

History has shown that highly successful productions that use animals can increase the popularity of certain species or breeds only for them to become overbred and subsequently abandoned once the popularity diminishes. An historic example of this was the popularity of ‘teenage mutant ninja turtles’ in the nineties had a significant influence on the increased popularity of terrapins as pets. This then led to large numbers of terrapins being abandoned in ponds and lakes which had a devastating effect on local wildlife. Whilst no blame should be placed on the producers of  ‘teenage mutant ninja turtles’ this demonstrates how influential productions can be.

Productions should use suitable experts. What I mean by suitable is they should understand the production process to allow productions to plan and understand the best way to use animals without impacting negatively on animals’ welfare. In addition they should have knowledge and understanding of the welfare needs of the species to be used.

Productions should consider employing someone independent of the animal trainer at the planning stage. They can do a number of roles to assist a production including;

a.    Advise production in relation to animal welfare and animal behaviour, including but not limited to, advising on information that production will require from owners/suppliers before the animals can appear in the production;

b.    Highlighting any potential welfare issues including limitations set by animal welfare legislation.

c.    Helping set guidelines for animal use throughout the production stage including reviewing scripts and advising on how to achieve animal actions with the least impact on welfare.

d.    Advise on the parameters for the selection of animals and contributors for the production.

e.    Advise on the set-up location, including but not limited to, advice to ensure the animals’ welfare.

f.    Attend filming days to monitor and advise on animal welfare

g.    Facilitate communication between the production crew, the veterinary surgeons engaged during the production and those responsible for animal care on-site about welfare issues.

h.    Provide any further welfare advice services as required prior to and during production.

I.    Preparing on-going reports during and after filming to record any concerns and propose amendments to improve welfare.


Productions can have an animal safety rep or consultant or a vet who only attend filming and will observe and step in if they are concerned an animal will get hurt and will give a certificate to reflect this and appear on the credits. It should be made clear by all parties what the expectation and limitations are for their role.



Physical environment-

Productions should be aware that, in the UK, they legally have a duty of care to provide a suitable environment for an animal that is brought onto the production site.

The animal(s) will likely not be exhibited/in front of the camera all day so productions should ensure there is a suitable rest area which is quiet and away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the production. This should allow the animal to relax and get comfortable in what is essentially its temporary home. Whatever the species this space should provide the appropriate environmental conditions including space, light, temperature and humidity. If an animal is calm and relaxed off set you are more likely to get the desired actions once you get it in front of the camera.

Behavioural Interactions-

When understanding behavioural interactions this comes with understanding the natural behaviours of an animal.

With considering interactions with the environment, other animals and with humans much of this will be based around training and habituation but there are certain behaviours that animals will need to do to increase positive mental state.

With regards to interactions with the environment this will involve searching physical requirements such as a goat’s desire for a 3D environment or a chickens need for a substrate that allows them to scratch and search for food. Examples of poor practise include invariant, barren and/or confined environments that offer little for the animal to do or explore. Cats in cages, snakes in bags or birds in small transport cages. I find it frustrating when I see trainers leaving their animals in the back of a van and justifying it by saying the animal is ‘used to it’. What is suitable for transporting an animal safely is not usually suitable for behavioural interactions.

When it comes to interactions with other animals, I see many examples of the negative side with animals that are brought to productions whether it be herd animals that are separated from other animals, donkeys that have been brought to location without their companions (likely to cause loneliness and yearning from both animals) or predator and prey species in close proximity. In reality this may or may not cause anxiety, fear, panic, insecurity but prey species will often hide or suppress showing these signs. Whilst in certain circumstances it is accepted that predator and prey are used together such as sheep herding using a dog, this should only be accepted in farming practise as the most effective way to herd sheep but more often than not it is not suitable in a production environment when alternative methods for controlling sheep could and should be used.

Taking into consideration interactions with humans and an animals ability to adapt and understand with humans, especially those that are not their owners, there are certain human behaviours that can have a negative effect on animals such as uncertainty, fearfulness, indifference, impatience, and even more negatively, being oppressive, belligerent, domineering, callous, cruel & vindictive. Whilst there is nearly always policies in place on productions about how people should behave towards fellow crew members, negative behaviours towards and around animals can have a negative effect on them too.


Food can be an excellent way to motivate or reward animals for doing the actions and behaviours required on a production from the simple placing food to keep an animal in a certain position to training animals on a positive reward-based system, which should always be the preferred training method. In all these scenarios the food given should be included as part of the animals daily feeding regime. Any food being offered should be appropriate for the species and to the individual animal(s). Consideration should be made as to how the food is presented. By presenting the food that allows the animal to express normal behaviours this can increase positivity for the animal. Examples of this maybe spreading and hiding food for foraging animals to find and discover or placing food at height for those animals that like to naturally browse at height such as goats.

Fresh clean drinking water should be available at all times. Whilst that is not always possible on set then it becomes more important to be offered as soon as the animal comes offset.


Any animal that is brought to a production should be fit and healthy enough to cope with the actions expected of it. In addition to this, the production environment should be safe enough to reduce the risk of injury and disease and there must be a plan to deal with any animal that becomes sick or injured. This may include having a vet on site to recognise the signs of illness and/or injury but whether a vet is on set or not, the nearest available veterinary surgery should be identified to deal with an emergency as the on-set vet may not have the equipment or medication with them to deal with an emergency. If the animal owner’s own vet is within a short travel distance (~30mins) this should suffice.

When it comes to health and safety planning with regards to animals in stunts, I would suggest  there are 2 types of stunts involving animals. Firstly, there are stunts which involve the animal being asked to perform an action that increases the risk of injury to the animal such as horses galloping or dogs jumping through open windows, then there are stunts that involve actors and/or equipment that have animals in and around the scene. The risk to the animals is the unusual actions which may cause anxiety to the animals, such as explosions, gunfire or fast moving vehicles.

When considering the health of animals on set one vital aspect is understanding and controlling the spread of disease. Disease control is very important and often a legal requirement and a production has a responsibility to ensure that things are put in place to stop the spread of disease between unfamiliar animals (including wildlife) and between humans and animals. Whilst the risk may be minimal, the consequences can be catastrophic. In addition the ‘optics’ of not having a bio-security plan in place can put the production company at reputational risk.


When it comes to assessing mental state and understanding whether this is a positive or negative it can often be misinterpreted. If an animal does not show any negative reaction of behaviour such as fear, anxiety or injury it is too often assumed that nothing is wrong.

It is important when working with animals on a production that someone understands how to recognise the signs of;

breathlessness, thirst, hunger, pain (there are ~30 varieties of pain), nausea, dizziness, debility, weakness and sickness,

as well as frustration, anger, helplessness, loneliness, boredom, depression, anxiety, fear, panic and hypervigilance.

It is also important that that person informs the production that an animal is showing signs of one or more of the above and steps are taken to alleviate these.

It is equally  important that someone is able to identify when an animal is feeling positive through comfort, pleasure, interest, attachment, confidence and a sense of being in control.




Animals In Media CIC has been started up by myself and Laura Jackson with the intention of becoming the leading voice behind improving the lives and welfare of animals performing in film, television, advertising, live exhibition and beyond.  We will be the go to for all stakeholders  in the entertainment industry, where they can get help and information when using animals for entertainment and exhibition.


Animals In Media’s objective is to build a framework to ensure that performing animals are afforded the protection that they deserve, and to ensure that there is transparency within the industry over its use of animals for entertainment. We hope that, in turn, this will breed confidence for audiences in the UK and beyond, that the making of any production has not come at the expense of the health or welfare of the animals they are watching.

We recognise that now, and in the future, animals will continue to play a significant role on screen and in entertainment and we’re passionate about supporting both the productions and the animal trainers and owners and we will continue to work together with them, as our experience tells us that many of these people are as passionate as we are about creating positive change for these animals.

To follow and support us go please go to Animals In Media

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