November 24, 2016 – The UK prides itself on being a nation of animal lovers but only one in three pet owners, or 35%, are familiar with the legal responsibilities they have to meet their pets’ welfare needs, a coalition of veterinary organisations has revealed to mark the 10th anniversary this November of landmark Animal Welfare Acts.

Despite over half of UK households having 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 low and has been faling. 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 – the Veterinary Animal Welfare Coalition – to help pet owners better understand the complexities of their pet’s five welfare needs.

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 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 pop into their local veterinary practice, where they will be able to get tailored, up-to-date advice for their pets, whether that’s a horse or a hamster!”James Yeates, vet and chair of the Veterinary Animal Welfare Coalition said.

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 pets, which might help mitigate the upset and potential need for emergency veterinary care. And according to a recent survey by the BVA, 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.

Gudrun Ravetz, president of the BVA, told Pet News Today overall pet owners simply aren’t aware of the all of the five welfare needs.

“Some of the problems we [vets] see are just a lack of knowledge. Someone may have got a pet 10 years ago, but knowledge has since moved forward. Rabbits were once seen as very easy children’s pets. We know now they are not easy children’s pets,” she said.

When asked what a vet’s legal responsibilities are if they believe a legal animal welfare need is not being met, Gudrun said:

“If there are concerns first of all you must work with the client and you must try and educate. A veterinary surgeon has a duty to the welfare of  the animal.

“Vets are very good at knowing when accidents happen – they will not judge you on that, they will educate you. Most welfare issues are due to a lack of education.”

Gudrun said serious failures under the animal welfare laws are “very, very rare”.

“It’s very rare you can’t resolve something with a client, whether it’s benign neglect or a one-off incident,” she said, adding that vets have client confidentiality with the pet owner or animal keeper, so people should feel they can be fully open with their vet if there is a problem.

“The way you can get a pet now is so easy and it’s becoming more and more easy. People can get them on a whim – that doesn’t mean they don’t intend to do the right thing,” she added, saying the new coalition was aiming to educate people on the different five welfare needs of different types of pets.

To find out more about how the five welfare needs apply to your pet, please speak to your local veterinary practice team who are best placed to advise based on your pet’s species, size and age.

More information is also available at

The Animal Welfare Acts refer to the Animal Welfare Act (England and Wales) 2006, which received Royal Assent on 8 November 2006, and the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. The Welfare of Animals Act was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2011.

Polly Stewart
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