Penn Vet | Graduate Certificate-Animal Welfare & Behavior
New Bolton Center Kennett Square, PA
Emergencies & Appointments:
Ryan Hospital Philadelphia, PA

Graduate Certificate in
Animal Welfare & Behavior

Penn Vet’s Online Graduate Certificate in Animal Welfare & Behavior provides current graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania with a comprehensive overview of the fields of animal welfare and behavior, and human-animal interactions. Our program combines the knowledge and experience of a veterinary school with industry-leading faculty, with the flexibility and affordability of an online certificate program.

Research, advocacy, and consumer concern have inspired great public interest in the quality of life of animals, as well as a public appeal for a greater understanding of what an animal experiences under the care of humans.  Such interests extend across a variety of species including zoo, laboratory, farm and companion animals.

A growing number of employers, including research institutions, government agencies, food producers, animal protection agencies, and NGOs, seek individuals with the kind of training that will enable them to promote the welfare and quality of life of animals. 
Our online graduate certificate program combines self-directed online activities with real-time, in-person sessions.
The Details

Length:  4 courses, 7 weeks/course

Effort:  8-10 hrs/week

Language:  English

Fall '24 Classes Start:  August 27, 2024

Price:  $3,713/course

Application Open Date: October 2, 2023
Pririty Deadline:
April 15, 2024
Application Close Date: May 15, 2024


What You Need to Know

  • Who Is This Program Designed For?

    This program is designed for University of Pennsylvania graduate students who looking for a deeper understanding of animal behavior and scientific approaches to animal welfare. We also welcome graduate students interested in pursuing careers in animal health, welfare and policy, as well as veterinary students/veterinarians who would like to deepen their knowledge of animal welfare, behavior, and human-animal interactions.

    There is a rising demand for individuals with a formal, science-based understanding of animal behavior and welfare. Employers are looking for professionals who can help them enhance the welfare of animals regionally, nationally and internationally, and respond to public concerns about these issues.

    Our goal is to make cultivating the skills to build successful careers in animal welfare more affordable, accessible, and effective.

    The emphasis of this program on animal welfare—its complexities, and its inextricable links to human health—reflects Penn Vet’s commitment to One Health and its mission “to lead the advancement of health and science for the betterment of animals, humans, and their environment.”

  • What Will I Learn?

    Our online graduate certificate program brings together renowned experts in veterinary medicine and animal behavior, with animal enthusiasts and working professionals – including those working in vets, shelters, research, labs, pharmaceuticals, NGOs, agriculture, and food production.

    The Certificate program consists of four courses that can be taken in sequence over the academic fall and spring semesters. 

    Course Descriptions

    VCSN 6390 Animal Welfare Science (6 Credits) – Dr. Meghann Pierdon, Course Director

    This course covers the basic principles, history, and application of animal welfare science. Over a series of video modules, online discussions, assignments and quizzes, this course will teach students to assess the welfare of animals in a variety of settings using science-based methods and reasoning. Students will learn current welfare issues by species. The class will engage in activities that build the skills to find and assess scientific sources of information. Finally, the link between science and ethics will be explored such that students understand various ethical frameworks and how they relate to animal welfare. The objective of the course is to provide students with the background and application of animal welfare science which will facilitate their ability to successfully engage in welfare deliberations and welfare science in a variety of fields.

    VCSP 6390 Animals and Society (6 Credits) — Dr. James Serpell, Course Director

    This course describes the changing roles and status of animals in society. It will examine the history of human-animal relationships through the lens of subsistence hunting, animal domestication, farming and pastoralism, animal research, and pet keeping. The historical development of ambivalent/oppositional attitudes to animal exploitation will also be described and discussed, and the remarkable diversity of contemporary human-animal relationships and their impacts on animal welfare will be explored across cultures. The influence of science, government, business and non-governmental organizations in defining and influencing animal-related laws and policies will also be addressed. The goal of the course is to provide the necessary background and information to enable students to understand and engage with the current public debate on the welfare and ‘rights’ of nonhuman animals.

    VCSP 6330 Fundamentals of Animal Behavior (6 Credits) – Dr. Carlo Siracusa, Course Director

    This course provides students with a basic understanding of animal behavior as a foundation for understanding animal welfare. Examples from species relevant to animal welfare concerns will be used to illustrate amongst other principles Tinbergen’s four questions of behavior: causation, development, evolution, and function. Students will learn about the anatomical and physiological bases of behavior; the ecology and its influence on animal behavior; the social, ingestive, reproductive and parental behavior of animals. The goal of this course is to provide students with the tools to interpret animal behavior and then apply the inferred information to assess animal welfare.

    VCSN 6500 Applied Animal Welfare and Behavior (6 Credits) – Dr. Tom Parsons, Course Director

    This course aims to provide students with practical skills helpful in the study of animal welfare and in the future offers a bridge to our proposed master’s program. Students will be exposed to critical reading of the scientific literature, development and testing of hypotheses, as well as typical experiment paradigms for examining animal welfare and behavior. The goal of the course is for each student to conceive, develop, write and present a research proposal on a question of interest in animal welfare that could provide the foundation for a future capstone project.

  • Format

    The Certificate program is designed as an on-line learning program with a combination of asynchronous and synchronous features.

    The Animal Welfare and Behavior curriculum includes four 7-week long on-line core courses. To receive a Certificate, participants will be required to take all four courses.

  • How Do I Apply?

    It's easy! We offer one admissions cycle each year. Your application (including your personal statement, resume and transcripts) must be received by the deadlines below. 

    Application Deadlines
    Admission Cycle  Priority DeadlineApplication Close
    Fall 2024 April 15, 2024May15, 2024
  • Admissions Requirements

    • Completed application form and personal statement.

    Students will be asked to fill out our application form and upload a personal statement that addresses the following:

    1. Your specific interest in pursuing the online Certificate in Animal Welfare and Behavior 
    2. How you will benefit from attaining a Certificate, and more specifically how the Certificate will align with your eventual career goals
    3. Your approach to engaging and interacting in the online environment
      • Essay: Please respond to the essay prompt below:

        In a recent study, mice who did not experience a painful stimulus but were housed in the same room with mice who did experience a painful stimulus demonstrated altered behavior. How do you interpret this finding and how might it relate to animal welfare?

      • Bachelor’s degree. Advanced background in biology or animal science preferred.
      • Academic Transcripts. Transcripts should include at least one college level biology course. Official transcripts are required prior to enrollment.
      • Letter of Recommendation from current supervisor and/or teacher.
      • Updated CV or Resume
      • Non-refundable application fee of $50.
      • Accepted candidates will be required to pay a non-refundable enrollment deposit of $150.
  • Questions

    If you have any questions about the certificate program or any of the courses, please contact us.

  • Program Benefits

    Through this program, you will:

    • Gain the background necessary to understand and engage in the public discourse on animal welfare.
    • Increase your understanding of animal welfare problems by learning to recognize important behavioral and physiological signs.
    • Build a professional network of peers to gain new perspectives, explore ideas, and discover new opportunities.
    • Learn how to identify solutions to welfare challenges facing individual animals, organizations, and even industries.
    • Gain an evidence-based understanding of animal welfare and behavior. 

    • Garner valuable experience in conceptualizing, writing and defending a research proposal integrating both theory and practice of animal welfare.
    • Learn cutting-edge tools and frameworks from renowned faculty at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, and become part of a close network of people who are dedicated to animal welfare.

    In addition, veterinarians who take the program will be better prepared for board certification by the American College of Animal Welfare.

Financial Aid

This program is not eligible forTitle IV funding or financial aid. University of Pennsylvania and health system employees may use tuition benefits toward these courses. Please note that tuition benefit policies differ for University employees and health system employees. 

Student Testimonial

Hillside Farm - A place of healing

Suzanne Kapral – Changing the Lives of Animals

Suzanne Kapral’s grand vision is to change children’s lives with the help of farm animals and agriculture. This is no easy feat, but her tenacity and pursuit of learning led her to seek ways to make this a reality.

Meet Our Faculty

Tom Parsons, Penn Vet, New Bolton Center, swine

Thomas Parsons, VMD-PhD, DACAW

  • Professor of Swine Production Medicine 
  • Director, Swine Teaching & Research Program

Dr. Meghann Pierdon, Penn Vet

Meghann Pierdon, VMD, DACAW

  •  Assistant Professor of Clinical Production Medicine
  • Director of Pennsylvania Regional Disease Control Program
Dr. James Serpell, Penn Vet

James Serpell, PhD

  • Emeritus Professor of Animal Welfare 
  • Marie A. Moore Professor of Ethics & Animal Welfare
  • Director, Center for Interaction of Animals & Society

Dr. Carlo Siracusa, Penn Vet

Carlo Siracusa, DVM, PhD, DACVB, DECAWBM

  • Associate Professor of Clinical Animal Behavior & Welfare 
  • Director of Clinical Behavior Medicine
Dr. Brittany Watson, Penn Vet

Brittany Watson, MS, VMD, PhD, DACVPM

  • Associate Professor of Clinical Shelter Medicine
  • Co-Head of the Behavior, Welfare,
    and Human-Animal Interaction Research Division
  • Director of Shelter Medicine & Community Engagement
Dr. Jenni Punt, Penn Vet

Jennifer Punt, VMD-PhD

  •  Professor of Immunology
  • Associate Dean for One Health

Policies and Resources

Academic integrity, acceptable use of electronic resources, and privacy issues are particularly important  in online degree programs. The AWB program follows University policies and compliance requirements. Students have access to these policies, as well as resources and special services, through the links below, their courses, and orientation materials.

The Penn Book is the comprehensive source for Penn's policies and procedures, including information on academics, resources, and student personal conduct and responsibility. As University of Pennsylvania students, Graduate Certificate or Master of Science in Animal Welfare and Behavior students are expected to adhere to these policies.


Policies listed in the Penn Book include, among other policies:

The University of Pennsylvania is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Information on accreditation and state authorization is available on the website for the Office of the Provost.

Program specific policies can be found below:


The Animal Welfare and Behavior Graduate Certificate program is offered by the University of Pennsylvania, an institution of higher education authorized to confer degrees and certificates conferring academic credit under applicable laws of the United States.  Students who are interested in participating in the program from countries other than the United States are advised that each jurisdiction may have its own laws and regulations governing online educational programs, and some jurisdictions may not recognize course credit or an online degree awarded by the University as satisfying local requirements for professional licensure, employment qualification, or other purposes. Before enrolling in this program, prospective students should investigate their jurisdiction’s treatment of foreign online programs to ensure that participation in this program will meet their objectives.