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A picture is worth a thousand words – translating the 5 welfare needs on set

Speaking from first-hand experience as a vet on set, BVA Past President, Gudrun Ravetz, explores how the veterinary profession can play a powerful role in advising on the responsible use of animals in advertising.

A picture is worth a thousand words - This statement rings especially true in a world where our preferred method of communication is social media. As a medium where word count is usually low but the use of images high, on social media we are constantly striving for the ‘wow’ factor to drive engagement with posts.

As part of this, pictures of animals and particularly pets can often be powerful influencers whether that influence is in a commercial sense, by persuading you to buy something, or to increase the popularity of a person using the image. Sadly, there is a presumed innocence in using animals in what is often seen as harmless imagery; a dog on a trampoline, animals in human clothing, eating inappropriate or harmful food, showing gross extreme conformations (“because they look so cute”) are just some examples.

Lack of information

Having worked on set, advised commercial companies about animal image use and been part of the BVA campaign tackling extreme conformation in animals, I am well aware that those using animals in advertising are not aiming to have any negative effect on overall animal welfare. No company wants their brand to be associated with suffering and welfare harms and when gently informed of the negative effect their campaign/ image will have they are usually concerned and wish to take action. The inappropriate use of animals in the media is due to lack of information and understanding by the companies and this is exactly where the veterinary profession can and should play a powerful role.

Translating the 5 welfare needs on set

As vets we can advise on the health and welfare needs of animals and the duty on owners and those using animals in imagery to meet the five welfare needs. Advice on the existence of the welfare needs is vital, but what makes a difference is translating what these needs mean in real life and particularly what it means on set. This translation into real world scenarios is where the difference can be made and it is exactly this area where the BVA good practice guidance for the responsible use of pet animals in advertising comes in as a great decision-making tool.

Simple advice can make a huge difference. With one of the biggest welfare issues amongst our pets being obesity, it is vital that pets are shown with the appropriate food for their species and in the appropriate amounts. This would seem simple, but if it is not your area of expertise it’s likely that it won’t form part of your considerations. The same goes for brachycephalic dogs who are now ubiquitous in marketing campaigns.

With such a marked presence, it follow that for an advertising team it makes perfect sense to use them in the latest advertising campaign - especially if they are unaware of the health and welfare problems that they suffer from.

Vets as vital parts of the advertising team

Of course, vets are not advertising executives and advertising executives are not vets, but by working together as a team, and by using BVA’s good practice guidance, a responsible and effective advert can be produced. Vets are vital parts of the advertising team and we need to speak up to inform and educate about animal imagery and its power.

These new guidelines allow us to speak up with authority and to make sure that evidence-based advice is always on hand for anyone working with pets in the media.

Pictures can normalise health and welfare harms. For the sake of our animals this needs to be tackled. Working together we can provide the education and meaningful information to make sure that pictures act as a powerful educator for positive welfare. Our good practice guidance for the responsible use of pet animals in advertising is a fantastic resource for all vets to play a part in changing the use of pets in the media. 

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