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The needs of millions of pets neglected - PDSA

If only we took the time to understand the needs of our pets better, sad news from the PDSA:

A shocking new animal welfare report by leading veterinary charity, PDSA, reveals millions of pets are more aggressive, overweight and misunderstood than ever due to fundamental gaps in pet owners’ animal welfare knowledge.

1.3 million dogs across the UK are displaying problem behaviour, 18.5 million dogs, cats and rabbits are being fed deadly diets, and 11.2 million pets are at risk of life threatening disease due to not being vaccinated or neutered.*

Findings from the second PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report** produced in conjunction with YouGov, exposes a serious lack of understanding and provision of even basic levels of care for millions of the UK’s pets.  The report, which captures the views of pet owners, the veterinary profession and for the first time, children, lifts the lid on some of the most concerning health and welfare issues facing the pet population and reveals some uncomfortable home truths, with problem behaviour in dogs, and obesity and illness in dogs, cats and rabbits, set to rise unless action is taken.

PDSA Head of Pet Health and Welfare, Nicola Martin, says: “The new PAW Report findings do make for difficult reading especially considering virtually all of the issues we have investigated are entirely preventable. The new report identifies serious concerns when it comes to the wellbeing of our pet nation, but in reality these are just the tip of the iceberg, especially if we don’t take action now to protect animal welfare long into the future. Taking on pets is a huge commitment and one that brings with it significant responsibilities throughout a pet’s lifetime. These responsibilities are not optional, they are a legal requirement and vital to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of all pets.

 “Just as humans have basic health and welfare needs, so do animals, but it is clear that in many cases their individual needs are just not understood. As the UK’s leading veterinary charity, we simply cannot ignore this and we want to do all we can to improve the long-term wellbeing of pets by helping owners understand what their pets really need to be healthy and happy.”

Behaviour in the spotlight

The 2012 PAW Report reveals frightening levels of problem behaviour in dogs, with growling, snarling and aggression towards people and other animals happening on a regular basis. The highest levels of problem behaviour are seen in Northern Ireland and the East of England. Of the owners surveyed for the PAW Report, 24% in Northern Ireland reported that their dogs show problem behaviour on a regular basis. This was closely followed by the East of England (20%); North East (19%) and Yorkshire and Humber (19%). The area of the UK with the least reported problem behaviour in dogs was Wales (8%).

The research also reveals that almost one in three (30%) dog owners have been bitten or attacked by a dog with over half (51%) knowing someone else who has.

The PAW Report also warns that while in some cases dogs are deliberately trained to be aggressive, the primary cause of the anti-social behaviour is a lack of socialisation and basic obedience training when dogs are young - 61% of dogs (5.3 million) never attended training classes within their first six months of life, an increase of 11% on last year’s figure. David Ryan, Clinical Animal Behaviourist and former Chair of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors says: “Good puppy socialisation and training classes undoubtedly help to reduce the initial development of aggression, but it is also essential to provide our pets with guidance in good behaviour, at home and elsewhere, throughout their lives. Training should be synonymous with ‘living with’ and never stops.”

What is encouraging is that 95% of pet owners believe that dog owners must take full responsibility for their dog’s behaviour; key to this is educating owners on the importance of training and socialisation.

And when it comes to the views of children a shocking 65% reported having been frightened or scared by a dog’s behaviour. PDSA Senior Veterinary Surgeon, Sean Wensley, says:  “Each year there are awful stories of dogs attacking pets and people, sometimes with fatal consequences. Tackling this begins with owners and breeders taking full responsibility for their dogs’ behaviour and adequately socialising and training them from a young age. It is also essential that young people understand how to be safe around all pets and learn how to become caring and responsible owners in the future. In PDSA’s view, this should include learning about a pet’s five welfare needs at school as well as from other responsible adults around them.”

Deadly diets

The feeding of inappropriate diets, one of the root causes fuelling the UK’s pet obesity epidemic, shows no sign of letting up - if anything the problem is set to get even worse based on what owners told the charity for the PAW report.

While a high percentage of owners understand that overweight pets will have a shortened lifespan (91%) and an increased risk of ill health due to obesity (93%), and 95% believe owners have  overall responsibility to learn about their pet’s dietary needs, it appears this isn’t translating into positive action. 

Despite acknowledging the consequences of pet obesity, millions of pet owners are still providing unsuitable diets for their companions with the levels of unsuitable treats being fed, rising. Diets are being influenced by human emotion rather than an understanding of what pets really need, with 48% of owners motivated to feed treats because of the short-term happiness it appears to bring to their animal companions. Even more worrying, 29% of owners feed treats because it makes them feel happy.

Putting emotion aside, owners do have strong opinions on what should happen if people persistently fail to heed warnings and act on veterinary advice about their pets’ weight - with 61% believing that severely overweight pets should be removed from an owner in such cases.

Dr Alex German, leading animal obesity specialist at the University of Liverpool Veterinary School says: “I am pleased to see PDSA stressing the important message that obesity is entirely preventable. Prevention is vital to reduce the number of overweight and obese pets, and a key benefit of PDSA’s research would be to help set a national agenda on pet obesity prevention.”

Further PAW Report findings:

As well as serious issues regarding pet behaviour and obesity, the PAW Report has also uncovered other health and welfare failings:

  • The fate of millions more pets could be at risk for generations to come as hundreds of children who were surveyed for this year’s report lack basic knowledge about animal welfare needs. Whilst 76% of children think they should be taught at school about caring for pets, only 16% actually have been.
  • Around 2.5 million dogs, cats and rabbits still aren’t registered with a vet, 4.5 million aren’t vaccinated and over 4 million aren’t neutered. The consequence of neglecting the health needs of pets can prove fatal. Pets that aren’t vaccinated or neutered are at serious risk of developing potentially fatal illnesses such as parvovirus, cat flu or pyometra.
  • When it comes to cost, nearly half of vets and vet nurses believe that the financial responsibility of looking after pets is one of the least understood aspects of pet ownership. This is particularly worrying as 17% of owners surveyed for the report said they would consider giving up their pet due to the associated costs if they became too much. This increases to 33% amongst 18-24 year old pet owners who are currently some of the most financially challenged people in the UK due to the uncertain job market.
  • 47% of those surveyed think prospective pet owners should pass a test before taking on a pet, but children feel this is even more important with 65% of them agreeing that everyone taking on a pet should take a test first.
  • 92% of pet owners agree that all pet owners should have a basic understanding of the five welfare needs as outlined in the Animal Welfare Act (2006)***, yet over two thirds of owners (69%) are not familiar with the Act.

As part of its launch of the 2012 PAW Report PDSA has created a special animation designed to support the pet owning public and increase their basic understanding of pets’ needs. The charity is calling on animal lovers across the nation to view the animation, download the report and commit to making a better life for pets

*Figures calculated using estimated populations; 8,308,605 dogs, 11,015,362 cats and 1,668,818 rabbits
**The PDSA Animal Wellbeing Report 2012: Survey of 3,956 dog, cat and rabbit owners, 466 Vets and Vet nurses, and 553 children was conducted online between 10th March & 23rd May 2012 through the YouGov panel. Data is weighted to be representative of dog, cat and rabbit owners in the UK.
***When referring to the Animal Welfare Act this includes  the Animal Welfare Act 2006 covering England and Wales,  the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 which applies to the whole of Scotland and the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. The five animal welfare needs are : The need for a suitable environment; need for a suitable diet; need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns; any need it has to be housed with, or apart from, other animals; and its need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.


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