New study reveals that we may not know our pets as well as we think

cats, dogs, pet health, vets -

New study reveals that we may not know our pets as well as we think

How well do you know your dog or cat – are you able to understand their needs? According to a new study by the Royal School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh, some of us may not know our animals half as well as we think. Researchers have found that there is quite a knowledge gap when it comes to understanding what our animals need and what is best for them when it comes to their welfare.

Dog Photo by Justin Veenema on UnsplashDog Photo by Justin Veenema on Unsplash

The study, published earlier this month was commissioned by the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF). Researchers used various methods to help identify the most pressing welfare issues for 8 different species of farm and companion animals in the UK, including dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, poultry and pigs. 177 animal welfare experts were asked to participate in the study and give their opinion on specific welfare issues; with their own thoughts and observations on the severity, duration and perceived prevalence of each issue.

Following a thorough period of data gathering where issues were examined and ranked by the experts, the researchers uncovered an overarching theme when it came to all 8 of the domestic animal species that they studied. They found that there was a distinct ‘gap in owner knowledge.’ In other words, animal owners did not have enough information – or they were using old or outdated information - about how to care for their pet. The issues identified included lack of knowledge of welfare needs, social behaviour issues, problem behaviours, inappropriate diet and environment, lack of veterinary care, consequences from breeding decisions, poor pain management, delayed euthanasia and chronic ill health.

Are you feeding you dog an appropriate diet? Photo by Chris Benson on UnsplashAre you feeding you dog an appropriate diet? Photo by Chris Benson on Unsplash

Speaking about the study, Professor Cathy Dwyer from the University of Edinburgh said:

“Some potential animal owners do not give a lot of thought, or do much research, before acquiring a pet, so sometimes have little real knowledge about what normal behaviour, responses and even feeding habits look like, and the potential costs, of their pets.

“There is also a lot of conflicting information about for owners, especially I think in the area of training, so it can be hard for owners to be sure that they are accessing good quality information. For animal keepers that have inherited knowledge or where knowledge has been passed down through generations, information can be out of date but it can be hard to change those approaches.”

She concluded that people need to prioritise their pet’s welfare, explaining that in some cases it appeared that researchers or vets had access to available knowledge regarding specific species, but they did not always adequately communicate it to animal owners to make sure that they understood particular issues. 

Dwyer also suggested that some animal owners encounter external barriers that can prevent them from taking proper care of their animals - including lack of money, lack of time and restricted access to the things that they need to ensure that the animal is well cared for:

“Education is very important and finding ways for owners to access good quality information, ideally before they buy their animals is essential. This is a key role that vets can play in helping owners provide good welfare for their animals. It has been a great project that has produced a lot of what I hope is useful data.”

Happy dog Photo by Anna Dudkova on UnsplashHappy dog Photo by Anna Dudkova on Unsplash

Speaking about the study, Chris Laurence Chair of Trustees at the AWF who commissioned the study, said

“Resources for research into animal welfare issues are limited and the aim of this work was to highlight those that were the most significant to the animals concerned.  It will help guide where the Animal Welfare Foundation directs its effort in the future, and we hope it will do so for other funding bodies and researchers too.

“We have already started to address some of the issues raised in a call for research projects and hope that we will be able to continue to address the major concerns raised in this paper.

“This is an incredibly complex piece of work which provides other professions in the animal health and welfare world some firm footing to address some of its conclusions.”

Cat Photo by Paul Hanaoka on UnsplashCat Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

Addressing the Gap

Of course, not everyone is neglecting their pets – but it is possible to ‘kill them with kindness’ and make decisions based on your own needs rather than theirs. For example, the study highlighted delayed euthanasia as a welfare issue. Some pet owners may delay having a pet put down even if it is in pain because of their emotional attachment. The welfare and quality of life of the animal should always be the priority – it is better to put them down a day too soon than a week too late. The same principle applies to other issues raised – such as feeding them an inappropriate diet or delaying veterinary treatment.

If you are thinking of getting a pet it is worth reading up as much info as you can about your chosen species or breed beforehand – and if you have a pet already, don’t be complacent. You should never stop learning. It is important to continually update your knowledge, because advice and ideas around animal welfare are continually changing and something that may have been OK 10 years ago is not OK now.

It is also very important that vets and other pet and animal professionals offer useful information and are more proactive in ensuring that owners have the knowledge that they need in order to be able to care for their pets effectively.

What are your thoughts on this study – have you got any other ideas about how we can fix the knowledge gap when it comes to animal welfare? Let us know in the comments section below.

Main Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

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