Monday, September 18, 2017

Animal welfare and the dog and cat meat trade: WSAVA release position statement

Image: Dr Shane Ryan and Dr Melinda Merck, co-chairs of the WSAVA’s Animal Wellness and Welfare Committee, courtesy of WSAVA.

In Australia we don’t generally think of dogs and cats as sources of food, but in other parts of the world there is a long history of consumption of these animals.
But first, I want to reassure readers that this post will not go into any detail about the slaughter of these animals.
Those critical of the practice are often criticised for being discriminatory – after all, many critics eat equally sentient animals (I’ve personally opted out of this). Why are dogs and cats any different? This leads some to throw their hands in the air and ignore the problem.
However, the World Small AnimalVeterinary Association released a statement last month strongly opposing the dog and cat meat trade on welfare and other grounds.
The position statement was prepared by members of the WSAVA Animal Wellness and Welfare Committee. Importantly, it recognises cultural variation in attitudes to this issue, but raises very strong concerns about the welfare of dogs and cats throughout all stages of this trade.
The statement also highlights mounting qualitative and quantitative evidence regarding human health risks associated with this trade, including the transmission of rabies and other diseases.
Today I’d like to share the statement in full.

The farming and trade of dogs and cats for human consumption are arguably amongst the most significant and contentious of contemporary companion animal welfare issues, particularly in areas of Asia and Africa.

An estimated 25-30 million dogs and an unknown number of cats enter this meat trade annually.[i],[ii]  Dogs and cats may be stolen (or purchased) from their owners, taken from the streets, or sourced from farms. These animals are frequently transported long distances and then inhumanely slaughtered.  Investigations have documented the severe cruelty inherent in all stages of the dog meat trade including sourcing, transport, sale, and slaughter.1-[iii]

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) believes that dogs and cats are sentient beings and have the capacity to suffer. Whenever animals are under human care, their welfare must be ensured and their suffering prevented in every possible manner. We should always strive to ensure that the Five Freedoms [iv] are met:

1.     Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
2.     Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
3.     Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
4.     Freedom to express normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind.
5.     Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

The dog and cat meat trade encourages the mass and unregulated movement of unvaccinated companion animals both domestically and internationally. There is mounting qualitative and quantitative evidence documenting the public health risk the trade poses, in addition to compromising regional rabies control efforts.[v]  The trade, slaughter and consumption of dogs poses a risk to human health in the form of disease transmission, notably from rabies, [vi] but also from cholera and trichinellosis.[vii],[viii] Studies have revealed substantial incidences of rabies-infected canine tissue in restaurants, slaughterhouses, and markets in areas where dog meat is prepared and sold.[ix],[x]

Additionally, antimicrobial and other pharmaceutical / chemical residues are significant issues in dog meat. [xi] Dog meat rarely falls under food-hygiene or meat-sanitation laws and is not subject to controls at source nor testing before human consumption. This is therefore a veterinary public health concern, as well as a potential antimicrobial resistance issue. 

The WSAVA is sensitive to cultural variances and recognises that, while in western societies the consumption of dog or cat meat may be considered unacceptable, for other societies the consumption of dog or cat meat has not only economic but cultural and traditional significance.[xii]  However, due to the many animal welfare and public health concerns, the WSAVA strongly discourages the consumption of and trade in dog and cat meat. Instead, it encourages rigorous enforcement of existing laws and supports new controls and regulations where current legislation does not exist aimed at banning what is typically an inhumane and dangerous practice.

WSAVA represents over 200,000 veterinarians around the globe. In 2018, WSAVA will introduce the first Global Welfare Guidelines for Companion Animal Practitioners in Singapore.

WSAVA AWWC co-chair Dr Shane Ryan added that while there are cultural sensitivities around the issue of eating dog and cat meat, “it is important for us to make a very clear statement of our position on the dog and cat meat trade. We have serious concerns, not only about the welfare of the animals involved but also about the potential health risks to the people who consume the meat. We are committed to working with our members, with veterinary professionals and with all other stakeholders to achieve positive change through education and consensus building.”


[i] Czajkowski, C.. Dog meat trade in South Korea: A report on the current state of the trade and efforts to eliminate it. Animal Law, 2014 21:29–63
[ii] Humane Society International. Dog Meat Trade  Accessed Sept 3 2017
[iii] The Guardian. Illegal wildlife trade: Dog-meat mafia fuels Thailand's canine trade – video
Accessed April 3 2016.
[iv] Farm Animal Welfare Council / Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee. Five Freedoms.  Accessed Sept 3 2017.
[v] Ekanem, E.E., Eyong, K.I., Philip-Ephraim, E.E., Eyong, M.E., Adams, E.B. and Asindi, A.A. Stray dog trade fuelled by dog meat consumption as a risk factor for rabies infection in Calabar, southern Nigeria. African Health Sci. 2013 Dec;13(4):1170-3. doi: 10.4314/ahs.v13i4.44.
[vi] Wertheim, H.F., Nguyen, T.Q., Nguyen, K.A.T., de Jong, M.D., Taylor, W.R., Le, T.V., Nguyen, H.H., Nguyen, H.T., Farrar, J., Horby, P. and Nguyen, H.D.Furious rabies after an atypical exposure. PLoS Med. 2009 Mar 17;6(3):e44. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000044
[vii] Anh, D.D., Lopez, A.L., Thiem, V.D., Grahek, S.L., Duong, T.N., Park, J.K., Kwon, H.J., Favorov, M., Hien, N.T. and Clemens, J.D. Use of oral cholera vaccines in an outbreak in Vietnam: a case control study. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2011 Jan 25;5(1):e1006. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0001006.
[viii] Cui, J. and Wang, Z.Q. Outbreaks of human trichinellosis caused by consumption of dog meat in China. Parasite. 2001 Jun;8(2 Suppl):S74-7.
[ix] Mshelbwala, P.P., Ogunkoya, A.B. and Maikai, B.V. Detection of rabies antigen in the saliva and brains of apparently healthy dogs slaughtered for human consumption and its public health implications in Abia State, Nigeria. ISRN Vet Sci. 2013 Dec 12;2013:468043. doi: 10.1155/2013/468043. eCollection 2013
[x] Song, M., Tang, Q., Wang, D.M., Mo, Z.J., Guo, S.H., Li, H., Tao, X.Y., Rupprecht, C.E., Feng, Z.J. and Liang, G.D. Epidemiological investigations of human rabies in China. BMC Infect Dis. 2009 Dec 21;9:210. doi: 10.1186/1471-2334-9-210.
[xi] Lee, H.W. Dog Meat Production in Asia. Global Seminar on Animal Welfare. Proceedings: 33rd World Veterinary Congress. 2017:639-640

[xii] Cawthorn, D-M., Hoffman, L.C.. Controversial cuisine: A global account of the demand, supply and acceptance of “unconventional” and “exotic” meats Meat Sci. 2016 Oct;120:19-36. doi: 10.1016/j.meatsci.2016.04.017. Epub 2016 Apr 21.