UK pets at risk as two-thirds of owners unaware of welfare needs

03 November 2016

The UK prides itself on being a nation of animal lovers but only one in three pet owners (35%) are familiar with their pet's legal welfare needs , reveals a coalition of veterinary organisations today ahead of the tenth anniversary of the landmark Animal Welfare Acts (8 November).

Despite over half of UK households owning 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. This has prompted leading veterinary organisations including BVA, the British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA), British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS), Blue Cross, PDSA and RSPCA to launch a joint campaign to help pet owners better understand the complexities of their pet’s five welfare needs.

The PAW Report revealed that 97% of veterinary professionals agreed there is value in encouraging pet owners to better understand and provide for the five welfare needs of their pets.

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.

President of BVA Gudrun Ravetz said: “It’s concerning that, despite many veterinary practices’ best efforts, public awareness of the five welfare needs remains consistently low.

"There are so many strong voices for animal welfare, which is why it’s great that so many veterinary organisations – including BSAVA, BVNA and BVZS – are coming together within this coalition to highlight pet owners’ legal duty of care.

"We hope practices across the country will join us in spreading the message by continuing to deliver the welfare need-focused advice to clients that they already do, day-in, day-out.” 

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 Veterinary animal welfare coalition, which has developed from the BVA/RCVS Vet Futures Action Plan, recognises that veterinary practices across the UK already promote the five welfare needs through a range of methods, from displaying materials in their waiting rooms to providing health check consultations with vets and vet nurses to discuss pets’ needs. The seven organisations, which are all UK based and support or provide veterinary service delivery, are pooling their resources so that veterinary practices can more easily signpost clients to the wealth of resources that are available.

James Yeates, who chairs the Veterinary animal welfare coalition as part of the Vet Futures Action Plan, said: “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 visit their local veterinary practice, where they will be able to get tailored, up-to-date advice for their pets.”

According to a recent survey by 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. The veterinary coalition hopes that raising public awareness will encourage the 15% of pet owners not currently registered with a veterinary practice to seek out their local surgery for expert advice on their pet’s welfare needs.

To mark the tenth anniversary of the Animal Welfare Acts, the Veterinary coalition is launching a new icon to raise awareness of the five welfare needs and remind pet owners to think about how these apply to their own animals.

BVA and the other members of the coalition have information available for practices to support client conversations around the tenth anniversary of the Animal Welfare Acts and the five welfare needs.

BVA members can find out more on BVA's Community.

BVA Media Office