Research from the Royal Veterinary College, commissioned by the RSPCA, released today has highlighted the most urgent issues that need to be rectified for the improvement of pet dog welfare in Britain. These include owners’ lack of awareness of welfare needs, poor health due to obesity, inherited disease or exaggerated physical features, intensive and unregulated puppy rearing and a lack of appropriate provision for behavioural needs.
The research published in the journal Animal Welfare surveyed the opinions of stakeholders working in various different capacities with companion dogs in Britain and found that rather than having a ‘good quality of life,’ the majority of those surveyed considered them more likely to have only ‘a life worth living,‘ meaning that there is room for improvement.
Over 200 stakeholders took part to find out what they perceive to be the welfare concerns that exist for companion dogs – defined as a domesticated pet, living as part of a family unit and not kept primarily for sport or work. These included veterinarians, veterinary nurses, behaviour specialists, welfare scientists, breeders, trainers, pet insurance representatives, members of government advisory bodies, welfare inspectors, dog wardens and charity staff.
Stakeholder categories had differing views regarding the quality of life of companion dogs in Great Britain. Industry and grooming parlour staff, breeders, exhibitors and judges rated their quality of life the highest, saying that British companion dogs have ‘a good life’, while welfare officers scored it lowest.
Although all stakeholder groups agreed on the important welfare issues, there were notable differences between these groups on their relative importance.
Veterinarians and Veterinary Nurses viewed puppy farming as of less importance (though relatively still important) than other groups of stakeholders. In particular, Industry considered puppy farming as highly important and urgent to rectify, perceiving the impact on the individual dog as higher and (together with those working in the Charity sector) scoring its prevalence higher than Veterinary professionals.
In contrast, Veterinary professionals perceived exaggerated physical features as relatively more important; significantly more so than Government, Industry or Charity sector stakeholders. Veterinary professionals also perceived obesity to be of higher importance than did Industry and Charity sectors.
Stakeholder differences in perceptions of quality of life and priority welfare issues are likely to relate to differences in practical knowledge and direct experience of these particular concerns, highlighting the importance of consulting a range of stakeholders to build a comprehensive picture of significant threats to canine welfare.
Views were not all negative. Factors perceived by stakeholders to enhance dog welfare included the quality of veterinary care, exercise, educational resources available for owners, responsible ownership and the work of rescue and welfare organisations.
Researcher Emma Buckland from the Royal Veterinary College, said: “We have a special relationship with dogs, and the view generally held by society is that dogs should have ‘a good life’; however, on average, stakeholders suggested that companion dogs in Great Britain may have a poorer quality of life, and described over 30 welfare issues that may affect them.”
“The study sets out future priorities. Addressing the most pressing welfare issues and maximising positive experiences can improve companion dog welfare and quality of life”.
Recent work estimates the companion dog population to be approximately ten million in the United Kingdom. In the past, surveillance of welfare standards within the companion animal population has received relatively little scientific attention compared with farm and laboratory species.
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Ryan O'Meara is group editor at Total Pet Publishing. A former professional dog trainer, Ryan is a frequent commentator in the media on a wide variety of canine issues including dog attacks, animal welfare and dog behaviour.