Welfare coalition marks Acts anniversary

4 November 2016

BSAVA has teamed up with six leading organisations to work on raising standards of animal welfare. The collaboration is being launched by marking the tenth anniversary of the Animal Welfare Acts (8 November), when we will be encouraging pet owners to have a closer relationship with their vet practice in order to understand their pet’s welfare needs, as well as encouraging pet owners not currently registered with a veterinary practice to start that relationship.

The veterinary animal welfare coalition is a part of the Vet Futures plan, and includes BVA, the British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA), British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS) and veterinary charities Blue Cross, PDSA and RSPCA.

UK pets at risk as two-thirds of owners unaware of legal welfare needs

The UK prides itself on being a nation of animal lovers but only one in three pet owners (35%) are familiar with their pet’s legal welfare needsi, reveals a coalition of veterinary organisations today ahead of the tenth anniversary of the landmark Animal Welfare Acts (8 November).

Despite over half of UK households owning a pet, findings from the veterinary charity PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report shows that year-on-year owners’ awareness of their pets’ welfare needs remains consistently lowii. This has prompted leading veterinary organisations including the British Veterinary Association (BVA), British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA), Blue Cross, British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS), PDSA and RSPCA to launch a joint campaign to help pet owners better understand the complexities of their pet’s five welfare needs. The PAW Report also revealed that 97% of veterinary professionals agreed there is value in encouraging pet owners to better understand and provide for the five welfare needs of their petsiii.

PDSA research further shows that pet owners who feel more informed about each of the five welfare needs are significantly more likely to provide preventive healthcare to their petsiv.

President of BSAVA Susan Dawson said:

“Too many of our members in practice see pets once a lack of understanding for the animal’s needs has led to ill-health or issues with behavior. By joining together with our colleagues across the profession we can encourage a greater understanding of the responsibilities of pet ownership. We know that preventative medicine leads to longer and healthier lives for companion animals, and the messages we can share through the animal welfare coalition will give us all a stronger voice. The anniversary of the Animal Welfare Acts presents an opportunity to promote the five welfare needs, and we look forward to working with the coalition and our members as advocates of better animal welfare.”

The 2006 Animal Welfare Acts of England and Wales, and Scotland consolidated and replaced more than 20 pieces of outmoded legislation. They established a duty of care, enshrining in law five animal welfare needs, outlining housing, diet, behaviour, social interactions and health as the legal responsibilities that every owner should meet to ensure their pet is as happy and healthy as possible.

The veterinary coalition, which has developed from the BVA/RCVS Vet Futures Action Plan, recognises that veterinary practices across the UK already promote the five welfare needs through a range of methods, from displaying materials in their waiting rooms to providing health check consultations with vets and vet nurses to discuss pets’ needs. The seven organisations, which are all UK based and support or provide veterinary service delivery, are pooling their resources so that veterinary practices can more easily signpost clients to the wealth of resources that are available.

James Yeates, who chairs the Veterinary animal welfare coalition as part of the Vet Futures action plan, said:

“The five welfare needs are a fantastic ‘umbrella’ guide to taking care of our pets, yet each and every species has such differing welfare needs – from cats who tend to be solitary animals and usually prefer to be the only pet to rabbits that should live in pairs or groups of other rabbits and dogs, who should not be left on their own for more than a few hours a day – it’s vital that pet owners can translate theory into practice. Our understanding of animal welfare science has come such a long way over the past 50 years so we’d really like pet owners to visit their local veterinary practice, where they will be able to get tailored, up-to-date advice for their pets.”

According to a recent survey by BVAv, vets’ top welfare concern is a pet’s diet, one of the five welfare needs, with vets reporting obesity, dental issues and other complex health problems as a result. The veterinary coalition hopes that raising public awareness will encourage the 15% of pet owners not currently registered with a veterinary practice to seek out their local surgery for expert advice on their pet’s welfare needsvi.

To mark the tenth anniversary of the Animal Welfare Acts, the veterinary coalition is launching a new icon to raise awareness of the five welfare needs and remind pet owners to think about how these apply to their own animals.

As part of our commitment to promote animal welfare and excellence in small animal practice, the BSAVA and PetSavers have developed a range of materials for pet owners. The guides for looking after puppies, kittens, rabbits, guinea pigs, and elderly pets are available for download. Hard copies are available for practices to share with their clients. If you are in veterinary practice and would like printed copies please email info@petsavers.org.uk.

Other useful resources for practices and pet owners:

i     Only one in three pet owners (35%) are familiar with their pet’s legal welfare needs’ is a statistic released from the forthcoming PDSA Animal Welfare (PAW) Report, which is due to launch late November 2016.
ii     According to the PAW Reports 2011 – 2016, pet owner awareness has remained consistently low with figures fluctuating between 45% (2011), 31% (2012), 38% (2013), 36% (2014), 31% (2015) and 35% (2016).
iii     PAW Report 2015
iv     Advance statistic from PAW Report 2016
v     BVA’s Spring 2016 Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey, which polled over 1,6000 UK vets, found that over 60% of vets cited obesity as their top health and welfare concern for pets
vi     Advance statistic from PAW Report 2016