New Bolton Center Kennett Square, PA
Emergencies & Appointments:
Ryan Hospital Philadelphia, PA

Graduate Certificate in
Animal Welfare & Behavior

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 (PDF) combines self-directed online activities with real-time, in-person sessions. Our faculty includes world leaders in animal welfare and behavior who have changed the way we think about our interactions with animals and the care they deserve.

The Details

Length:  4 courses, 7 weeks/course

Effort:  8-10 hrs/week

Language:  English

Summer Classes Start: May 26, 2020     

Fall Classes Start: September 7, 2020     

Price:  $4,000/course

What You Need to Know

  • Who Is This Program Designed For?

    Our program is designed for working professionals in positions associated with animal care and use. We also welcome college graduates 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 seek such individuals for roles where they can apply this knowledge to enhance the welfare of animals regionally, nationally and internationally, and respond to public concerns about these issues.

    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?

    The Certificate program consists of four courses that can be taken in sequence over the academic fall and spring semesters.  VCSN 639, VCSP 633 and VCSP 639 can also be taken as stand-alone educational experiences. 

    Course Descriptions

    VCSN 639 Animal Welfare Science (1 course unit) – 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 633 Fundamentals of Animal Behavior (1 course unit) – 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 650 Applied Animal Welfare and Behavior (1 course unit) – 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.

    VCSP 639 Animals and Society (1 course unit) — 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.


    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 two admission cycles per academic year. You may apply to begin your studies during the fall or summer terms. Your application ( including your personal statement, resume and transcripts) must be received by the deadlines below.

    Application Deadlines
    Admission Cycle   Deadline
    Summer 2020
    May 1, 2020
    Fall 2020
    August 1, 2020


    Admissions Requirements

    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
    • 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 $25.
    • 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 sensitivity to animal welfare problems by learning to recognize relevant behavioral signs.
    • Build a professional network of peers to gain multiple perspectives, explore ideas, and discuss challenges.
    • Learn how to identify solutions to particular welfare challenges facing an individual animal, an organization, or even a whole industry.
    • Garner valuable experience in conceptualizing, writing and defending a research proposal integrating both theory and practice of animal welfare.

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

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

  •  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, VMD, PhD

  •  Assistant Professor of Clinical Shelter Medicine
  • Director of Shelter Medicine & Community Engagement

Dr. Jenni Punt, Penn Vet

Jennifer Punt, VMD-PhD

  •  Professor of Immunology
  • Associate Dean for One Health