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MSc in Animal Welfare & Behavior

It has been a long time coming.  After more than five years in development, a faculty-driven, thoughtful and careful planning process has yielded an on-line Master’s of Science in Animal Welfare and Behavior.

This MSc offering reflects Penn Vet’s critical mass of faculty that have a unique expertise in animal welfare and behavior.  Our successful launch of a Graduate Certificate program in this area last fall provides further evidence for the timeliness of continuing educational opportunities for working professionals in animal welfare and behavior.

Apply to the MSc AWB Program

Application Opens: October 2, 2023. 
Priority Deadline:
 April 15, 2024
Application Closes: May 15, 2024. 

Questions About the MSc-AWB?

Want more information about the MSc in Animal Welfare & Behavior? Contact us today.

Why Animal Welfare & Behavior?

One of the most remarkable aspects of Homo sapiens as a species is how extensively we have coaxed, co-opted or coerced other animal species on the planet to serve our needs. Since man first domesticated animals over 10,000 years ago, we have benefited from animals providing us protection, transport, power, food, clothing, entertainment and companionship. 

However, animal use raises questions about what we owe these animals in return for our benefits.  Societal views about how man interacts with animals continue to evolve, continue to be debated and will reflect temporal, socio-economic or cultural perspectives. Animal welfare is the academic discipline that addresses both philosophical and scientific aspects of societal concerns about animal. Animal behavior is complex and intriguing, but also useful tool for understanding and improving animal welfare.

Why Penn Vet?

While the overarching subject of animal welfare embraces both the humanities and the sciences, training programs that focus on the science of animal welfare are relatively less common. 

Coming from a veterinary school perhaps then it is not surprising that our program is both animal-centric and focuses animal welfare science. The program has been developed around faculty having expertise in both the physical and psychological health of animals as well as the naturalness of their lives and promise a unique educational experience.  We believe that a profound understanding of the animal in animal welfare will benefit anyone interested in improving the quality of lives of animals.

Who should pursue our MSc in Animal Welfare & Behavior?

Our target audience is working professionals and others seeking positions that impact the care and welfare of animals.

A growing number of national and international stakeholders, including companies, NGO’s and academia are all seeking individual with expertise and a top quality education in animal welfare and behavior. 

Our online research Master's degree program brings together renowned experts in animal welfare, animal behavior and veterinary medicine with students, animal enthusiasts and working professionals employed by veterinary practice, animal shelters, research labs, pharmaceutical companies, NGOs, agriculture, and food production.

About the MSc Program

The Master of Science in Animal Welfare and Behavior is designed as an online program with an option for on-site research. It can be completed as a full-time program in a two-year period or as a part-time program over a longer period. Please see below for details of the curriculum.

We offer three curricular options within the program. All students enrolled in the MSc in Animal Welfare & Behavior complete core requirements. In addition, all MSc students are required to complete either a professional portfolio or a capstone project, which must involve the generation of independent and original intellectual content.

  • Option I:  Capstone Project - Requires original research and data collection in the field or laboratory.
  • Option II: Capstone Synthesis Project+ - Involves original analysis of current literature. Projects may include a scholarly paper, presentation, website, portfolio, podcast etc.

In each case, students choose or are able to customize a track:

  • One Welfare - Generalist track
  • American College of Animal Welfare track - For veterinarians preparing to meet requirements for American College of Animal Welfare

Available Elective Courses and Electives in Development:

  • Regulations and Animal Welfare
  • Evolution of Animal Welfare
  • Contemporary Issues in Animal Welfare
  • Applied Small Animal Behavior: Dog and Cat
  • Role of the Veterinarian and Veterinary Profession in Animal Welfare
  • Emergency Preparedness and Response: A One Welfare Perspective
  • Animal Welfare in the Shelter and Community
  • Zoo Animal Welfare
  • Natural Equine Behavior
  • Lab Animal Welfare

Tracks in Development:

  • Species Specific tracks 
  • Farm Animal Welfare
  • Shelter Animal Welfare
  • Companion Animal Welfare

MSC in Animal Welfare & Behavior Curriculum
*Please note that 6CR is equivalent to 1CU

Year One
Fall Animal Welfare Science
(6 CR)
Animals and Society
(6 CR)
Spring Fundamentals of Animal Behavior
(6 CR)
Applied Animal Welfare & Behavior
(6 CR)
SummerOptional Elective Course Optional Elective Course
Year Two

Elective Course I  
(3 CR)

Elective Course II
(3 CR)
 Proseminar or Professional Portfolio Development
(6 CR)
Spring Elective Course III
(3 CR)
Elective Course IV
(3 CR)
 Capstone Seminar or or Professional Portfolio Development
(6 CR)
SummerOptional: Mentored Thesis research, writing, and defense
or elective courses

Animal Welfare & Behavior Faculty

  • Thomas Parsons, VMD/PhD, DACAW
    • Dr. Tom Parsons, Penn Vet New Bolton CenterProfessor of Swine Production Medicine
    • Director, Swine Teaching & Research Center
    • Dr. Parsons is the Faculty Coordinator for the Master of Science in Animal Welfare and Behavior. Dr. Parsons was instrumental in establishing Penn Vet’s Swine Teaching & Research Center, which has served as a prototype for commercial-scale implementation of sustainable agricultural practices for more than a decade. To date, more than 200,000 sows on 80 farms across the U.S. and Canada have adopted the animal-friendly rearing systems pioneered by Dr. Parsons at Penn Vet’s Swine Center. In addition, Dr. Parsons has built one of the largest research groups working on farm animal welfare in North America. As a charter diplomat of the American College of Animal Welfare (ACAW), Dr. Parsons has received awards from the New York Farmers for distinguished service to agriculture and from the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association (PVMA) for animal welfare advocacy. He also sits on welfare advisory committees for the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV), the American Humane Association, Tyson Foods, and Kraft-Heinz.
  • Meghann Pierdon, VMD, DACAW
    • meghann-pierdonAssistant Professor of Clinical Production Medicine
    • Director of Pennsylvania Regional Disease Control Program
    • Dr. Pierdon is Faculty Coordinator of Animal Welfare and Behavior Graduate Certificate Program. Dr. Pierdon performs research on swine welfare, and disease mapping for the swine and poultry industries. She is the first swine veterinarian to be board certified in Animal Welfare and she designed Penn Vet's first Animal Welfare Science course which has been oversubscribed each of the three years she has offered it to Penn Vet students.
  • James Serpell, PhD
    • Dr. James Serpell, Penn VetMarie A. Moore Professor of Ethics & Animal Welfare
    • Director, Center for Interaction of Animals & Society
    • Dr. Serpell lectures on veterinary ethics, applied animal behavior and welfare and founded the International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ).  He has an international reputation as an author of the now-classic, In the Company of Animals, and the editor of The Domestic Dog, now in its 2nd edition. His research specializes in understanding animal welfare and animal-human interactions and has significantly advanced our knowledge of companion animal behavior and welfare. He is the recipient of the IAHIO/ISAZ Distinguished Scholar Award.
  • Carlo Siracusa, DACVB, DECAWBM
    • Dr. Carlo Siracusa, Penn VetAssociate Professor of Clinical Animal Behavior & Welfare
    • Director of Clinical Behavior Medicine
    • Dr. Siracusa is Board certified by both the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, of which he is the President, and the European College of Animal Welfare & Behavior Medicine. He provides an engaging public face for Penn Vet's Behavior Clinic and expertise with his frequent appearances in the media. 
  • Brittany Watson, MS, VMD, PhD, DACVPM
    • Dr. Brittany Watson, Penn Vet Shelter MedicineAssociate Professor of Clinical Shelter Medicine
    • Director of Shelter Medicine & Community Engagement
    • Dr. Watson has used her background in education to develop unique outreach programs that serve both students and shelter communities.
  • Jennifer Punt, VMD/PhD
    • Dr. Jenni Punt, Penn VetAssociate Professor of Clinical Shelter Medicine
    • Director of Shelter Medicine & Community Engagement
    • Professor of Immunology
    • Associate Dean for One Health

Admissions & Financial Aid


  • Our ideal applicants are working professionals in vocations focused on animal health and welfare who will benefit from a graduate program they can pursue while working full time.
  • This group includes but is not limited to veterinarians interested in sitting for the Boards in the American College in Animal Welfare.
  • We also welcome college graduates interested in pursuing a career in animal health or policy, as well as veterinary students who would like to deepen their knowledge of animal welfare and behavior.  
  • A bachelor’s degree that includes one college level biology course or an advanced background in biology or animal science is preferred. 

Admissions Requirement

  • Completed application form the following:
    • Academic transcript detailing performance in courses leading to the last academic degree the student received
    • Current résumé
    • Two letters of recommendation that address your qualifications for this program, your potential for research or similar novel scholarly activities, and your commitment to/interest in animal welfare or behavior. 
    • Personal statement that describes your motivation for participating in our research Master’s program as well as how you envision this program advancing your professional goals and aspirations.
    • Essay: Please choose ONE of the following:

      Essay #1

      Twinky was a purebred Lavender Point Siamese spayed female house cat and lived her life in a single cat household with her owner. She was declawed, fed twice a day by her owner, and spent her days playing with toys and watching birds through the windows of the 10th story apartment in which she lived.   At age 10, Twinky was diagnosed with severe dental disease and had most of her teeth removed and could only eat soft canned cat food after that.   At age 12, she developed renal disease and lived the rest of her life having her owner manage her chronic illness until she passed at 15 years of age.   

      Billy was a crossbred domestic short hair intact male barn cat and lived with a group of six other cats at a dairy farm.  He spent his days hunting for mice and birds as well as playing and, at times, fighting with the other cats on the farm.  Billy survived on what he hunted and some of the discarded milk from the dairy.   He walked with a limp, the result an untreated bite wound, was affected by parasitism most of his life, and was killed at 4 years of age when he was hit by a car as he crossed the road in front of the farm headed to hunt small rodents in the neighboring field.

      Please consider both cats’ life scenarios.  In up to 500 words, formulate and articulate an argument as to which cat led a better life.

      Essay #2

    • Below are the daily time budgets from steers raised either on pasture or in pens that describes how they allocate their time each day to different behaviors.  Please compare and contrast the data presented and formulate and articulate an argument in 500 words or less as to which steers lead a better life.

      MScAWB Essay Prompt graph

    • Interview: Candidates may be invited to interview with the the Admissions Committee.
    • Non-refundable application fee of $50.

Our commitment to diversity: We are committed to identifying, recruiting and training a diverse population of students, including both students from underrepresented populations as well as students who will serve in under-resourced rural and urban areas. The success of our program, in fact, depends on our ability to attract such a diverse group. 


  • Cost is $3,899 for a six-credit course, plus an Online Services Fee os $150 per course (incremental increases each year). The total cost of the program is $32,392..

Financial Aid

  • Students in the MSc program will be eligible for financial aid and federal loans.  In order to qualify for financial aid each student will need to take 12 CR equivalents per semester; we have specifically designed the program so that students can take this equivalent while continuing to work.

Next Steps

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 Master of Science degree 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.