The UK: A Nation of Pet Lovers?

The nation’s pets’ welfare needs are not being met according to a recent report by the PDSA 

What is an owner’s duty of care?
The Animal Welfare Act 2006 introduced a “duty of care” for all pet owners to meet the welfare needs of their pets. The England and Wales Act states:

Promotion of Welfare
9 Duty of a person responsible for animal to ensure welfare
(1) A person commits an offence if he does not take such steps as are reasonable in all circumstances to ensure that the needs of an animal for which he is responsible are met to the extent required by good practice.

I think that most UK pet owners would consider this completely reasonable and that they take their “duty of care” seriously and meet all of their pet’s welfare needs. However a report by the PDSA (Peoples Dispensary for Sick Animals) would suggest that many pet owners do not provide for their pet’s welfare needs and therefore are in danger of committing an offence.

The welfare of the nation’s pets
A need to assess the welfare of the nation’s pets was identified by the Companion Animal Welfare Council (CAWC) in 2008 and the PDSA’s Animal Welfare (PAW) Report 2011 is the first attempt to do this since the Animal Welfare Act came into force in 2006. The PDSA’s intention is to publish a report annually, providing a means to focus on areas of concern and to assess changes to these areas over time.

The PAW report is based on the five welfare needs for pets which are:

Environment A suitable place to live
Diet A suitable diet
Behaviour The need to express normal behaviour
Companionship The need to live with or apart from other animals
Health Protection from pain, suffering, injury, and disease

A total of 11,124 dog, cat, and rabbit owners and 137 vets and vet nurses responded to an online survey between September and December 2010. The respondents’ answers for each of the welfare needs were scored out of an index of 100 which was an ideal care scenario. The average of each of the five welfare needs gives an indication as to how well that species animal welfare needs are being met by their owners. The average of the welfare needs for each pet species is shown below:

Pet UK Pet Population Average Welfare
Need Index
Ideal Care
Dog 8,309,000 62 100
Cat 11,916,000 65 100
Rabbit 1,669,000 53 100

Social needs not met

It is immediately obvious that while rabbits are a small but significant minority of the UK pet population their welfare needs are poorly met by their owners. This will come as no surprise to most vets who have recognised for years that of all the pets they treat, rabbits suffer the most with poor standards of care.

For rabbits the lowest result for an individual welfare need was 32 and that was for the need for companionship. Rabbits are social animals and 67% of owners said that their rabbits live alone which will have a highly detrimental effect on their welfare.

Interestingly the lowest result for an individual welfare need for dogs was 49 and that too was for the need for companionship. According to the PDSA in the ideal scenario dogs should not be left alone for more than 4 hours a day. However 23% of respondents said that they leave their dogs alone for longer than that on an average weekday. Dogs need companionship and stimulation to prevent loneliness and distress which can result in behavioural problems.

The individual welfare need results for cats were very close, between 63 and 70, and their average was the highest for the three pet species assessed. Their lowest result was for diet because most owners felt that their cats were overweight or obese.

The PAW Report also provided some other very interesting information unrelated to animal welfare. Owners or each pet species underestimated the lifetime costs of ownership.

Pet Species Lifetime Cost of Ownership
Dog (Small to Large) £16,000 to £31,000 (Small to Large)
Cat £17,000
Rabbit £9,000

Main concerns
Vets and Vet Nurses were then asked what their main concerns were regarding companion animals. For dogs it was aggression and ‘status dogs’, for cats it was problems associated with multi-cat households and for rabbits it was inappropriate diets and lack of grass.

Richard Hooker BVMS (Hon), MRCVS, the Director of Veterinary Services at the PDSA sums the PAW Report up in a sentence. “Stressed, Lonely, Overweight, Aggressive, Misunderstood . . . . But much loved.” Despite the results, about 87% of vets and owners still believe the UK is a nation of pet lovers!

For the full report please visit:

David Chamberlain BVetMed., MRCVS.
Veterinary Consultant to PetSafe®

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