Monday, August 4, 2014

Companion animal welfare - what are the problems?

Ever wondered what happens to your papers when you send them off for peer review? This is Obi assessing some literature.
Happy Monday. As I learned from a very educational “Lynx” (alas, I mean the deodorant, not the cat) commercial last night, the average person lives through 4000 Mondays. Doesn’t seem like much when you put it that way.

If you’ve not enrolled in the Coursera Animal Behaviour and Welfare MOOC, you’re missing out. This week’s topic was a discussion of the welfare of cats and dogs: owned, strays, in shelters and even farmed for meat (often illegally). [They also discussed the welfare of companion horses and rabbits - the course is free so I recommend signing up, it takes 1-2 hours a week and is a real eye opener].

Why even bother looking at the welfare of pets? Don’t they have it great?

Well, as the instructors pointed out, there are plenty of issues we need to address. Keeping animals as pets can be associated with lack of stimulation (for the animal), behavioural problems (separation anxiety, aggression, destructive behaviour – all of which may be an animal’s way of coping with the challenges of captivity), overfeeding (especially a problem when combined with lack of exercise – which is due to owner time constraints, priorities and their own energy levels) and general lack of choice.

Cats can suffer from stress related diseases such as urinary tract diseases (these can be life-threatening, for example when the urinary tract becomes obstructed and the cat cannot urinate).

In one study they cited, 35 per cent of owners relinquished dogs to shelters because they didn’t have enough time to spend with them/look after them, and another 35 per cent of dogs were relinquished for behavioural reasons (examples cited included biting, aggression, disobedience, escaping, destructiveness, issues between new pets and old pets, house soiling and vocalisation).

It’s been said before but continues to be true: unwanted behaviours are behind more euthanasias than cancer, infectious diseases and metabolic diseases like diabetes put together. Really, it says more about us than them.


One of the nastiest parasitic diseases one can contract (though there is arguably some formidable competition out there) is hydatid disease. Tasmania was meant to be free of the hydatid tapeworm but unfortunately veterinary parasitologist David Jenkins has detected it in some dogs and livestock the Apple Isle. Read here - this info underscores the need to a) worm your dog b) prevent your pets from eating offal and c) avoid hydatid tapeworms at all costs.

The Morris Animal Foundation is hosting a webinar for pet owners on lymphoma on August 20. For more info check out their website here or register here.