Companion animals are growing in numbers not only in the West but also in many Asian countries (e.g., China). In some respects companion animals receive special treatment (as compared with other animals used by us). In other respects, however, they suffer as a direct result of the way we use them. Some companion animals, for instance, develop health or behavioural problems caused by social and physical factors in their environment.
Our awareness of the importance of companion animals in many people's lives is growing; in fact such animals are frequently used for therapeutic purposes. At the same time, many companion animals are abandoned, given up to shelters, or euthanized. Companion animals thus seem to be viewed both as individuals to be respected in their own right and as disposable sources of enrichment for humans.
On this site you will find various publications about companion animal ethics and welfare within the categories listed below. The categories are sorted alphabetically.
The burden of domestication: a representative study of welfare in privately owned cats in Denmark
By P. Sandøe, A. P. Nørspang, B. Forkman, C. R. Bjørnvad, S. V. Kondrup & T. B. Lund (2017).
Animal Welfare. UFAW.
The way in which domestic cats are kept and bred has changed dramatically over the last two centuries. Notably, a significant number of cats are kept indoors, most of them are neutered and many are selectively bred. This likely has consequences for their welfare. A few studies link housing, neuter status and breeding in cats to risks of welfare problems. However, the study presented here is the first to quantify the risks and document the prevalence of risk factors. It builds on results from a questionnaire sent to a representative sample of the Danish population. Using the responses from cat owners who keep cats in the home (n = 378), the paper aims to investigate how indoor confinement, neutering and selective breeding affect health, behaviour and other factors relating to cat welfare. The paper reports that confined cats had significantly more behavioural problems than free-roaming cats; that a smaller proportion of the free-roaming cats suffered from the behavioural problems investigated; and that entire cats had significantly more behavioural problems than neutered cats. Finally, significantly more purebred cats than domestic shorthair cats were found to have diseases. Being confined, being intact and being purebred are therefore significant risk factors for behavioural or health problems associated with reduced welfare in privately owned cats.
Assessment of animal welfare in a veterinary context - a call for ethologists
By S. B. Christiansen & B. Forkman (2007)
Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Elsevier
With the increasingly advanced treatments offered in veterinary medicine, the need to evaluate not only the treatment itself but also the implications of the treatment for the welfare of the animal has become more apparent. Follow-up studies are important sources of information for veterinarians concerning the potential outcome of a treatment and some of these studies include a statement concerning the welfare of the animal involved. In veterinary medicine the concept of animal welfare is often equated to health status, but it is important to distinguish between the success of the treatment in restricted terms, i.e. the health aspects; and the success in more global terms, i.e. how the general welfare of the animal is during and after the treatment.
A qualitative analysis was done on 32 follow-up studies of veterinary treatment given to dogs and cats, making reference to the terms animal welfare, quality of life or well-being. The studies typically speak about quality of life, and rarely define the terms used. The parameters used to assess animal welfare are primarily related to clinical aspects, while behavioural parameters for a broader welfare assessment - if used at all - are often crude. The assessments are made by animal owners, and sometimes also by veterinarians.
These results have severe implications for the validity and sensitivity of such studies. Seen from an ethological point of view, most studies are lacking sufficient broadness and detail in the parameters used to provide a basis for animal welfare assessments beyond a clinical evaluation. Veterinarians and animal owners do not necessarily have the required ethological knowledge to assess animal welfare in a broader sense. And both may be personally involved and thus introduce a bias in the assessment.
The development and validation of parameters and instruments for animal welfare assessment in a veterinary context
The value of animal life: How should we balance quality against quantity?
By P. Sandøe & S. B. Christiansen (2007)
Animal Welfare. UFAW
Development and consistency of fearfulness in horses from foal to adult
By J. Winther Christensen, C. Beblein & J. Malmkvist (2020)
Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Elsevier
Understanding the development and consistency of behavioural responses across life stages is of both fundamental and applied interest. In horses, fearfulness is particularly important because fear reactions are a major cause of human-horse accidents, and because fear is a negative emotional state with negative consequences for animal welfare and performance. In this study, we investigated the development and consistency of fear reactions in horses, from foal to adult. Twenty-five warmblood stallions of the same age, kept under the same conditions and with minimal human handling, were tested in novel object tests before weaning from the dam (at 5 months) and after weaning, at 1 year (two tests) and again at 3.5 years of age (two tests). Behaviour and heart rate responses were recorded. We found that foals’ expression of alertness towards novel objects was the best predictor of their later behaviour. Some changes in the expression of fear-related behaviour were evident pre and post weaning. Consequently, there were stronger correlations between the post-weaning tests, although these were further separated in time (2.5 years) than the 5 months and 1-year tests (7–9 months). Further, there were positive correlations in the horses’ reactions in the two tests at 1 year and at 3 years (e.g. heart rate: rs = 0.82, P < 0.001 and alertness: rs = 0.68, P < 0.001), suggesting that fearfulness is relatively stable across test situations at a certain age point. We conclude that it is possible to test for fearfulness at an early age (before weaning), by measuring the level of alertness towards novel objects. However, responses in post-weaning tests are more consistent. Our findings contribute to an understanding of the expression, development and consistency of fearfulness, which is advantageous for early assessment of behavioural differences in horses.
Breeding schemes for intervertebral disc disease in Dachshunds: Is disc calcification score preferable to genotyping of the FGF4 retrogene insertion on CFA12?
By C. S. Bruun, C. Bruun, T. Marx, H. F. Proschowsky & M. Fredholm (2020)
Canine Medicine and Genetics. BMC
Approximately every fifth Dachshund is affected by disc herniation - a painful, hereditary condition which is typically preceded by disc calcification. Therefore, the selection of dogs suitable for breeding can be based on radiographic examination of calcification status.
Recently, an insertion of an FGF4 retrogene on CFA12 has been identified and associated with the risk of developing disc herniation in chondrodystrophic breeds and a DNA test is now offered.
In this study we investigate the incidence of disc herniation in the smooth-haired, long-haired and wire- haired Dachshund populations. We also evaluate and compare the accuracy of the two breeding schemes predicting the risk of disc herniation: the DNA test and the radiography based scheme.
The overall incidence of disc herniation in Danish Dachshunds was 18% and no significant difference was found between the long-haired (17%), smooth-haired (22%) and wire-haired (16%) populations (p > 0.05). We found a significant association (p < 0.0001) between calcification status and the risk of disc herniation with a relative risk of 14.78. Using calcification status (≥ 5 or < 5 calcifications) as a risk indicator has a sensitivity of 0.79 and a specificity of 0.91.
A significant association between the FGF4 retrogene insertion and the disc calcification status was found in the wire-haired population (p < 0.0001) where the DNA test has a sensitivity of 1.0 and a specificity of 0.14. In the long- and smooth-haired populations no association was found (p > 0.05) and here the insertion allele was almost fixed.
Our results show that the FGF4 retrogene insertion on CFA12 is not a valid risk indicator on its own. Relying on the DNA test will have an irreversible effect on the Dachshund breed excluding almost all dogs from breeding. Thus, using calcification status remains the most reliable breeding scheme for disc herniation in Dachshunds.
Breeding French bulldogs so that they breathe well—A long way to go
By E.-M. Ravn-Mølby, L. Sindahl, S. S. Nielsen, C. S. Bruun, P. Sandøe & M. Fredholm (2019)
PLOS ONE. PLOS
Brachycephalic syndrome (BS) is a pathophysiological disorder caused by excessive soft tissue within the upper airways of short-nosed dog breeds, causing obstruction of the nasal, pharyngeal and laryngeal lumen, resulting in severe respiratory distress. As the prevalence of BS appears to be high among some of the affected breeds, there is an urgent need for breeding efforts to improve the health status of those dogs. In the present study, we evaluated correlations between morphometric and other phenotypic characteristics and BS in a population of 69 French bulldogs from Denmark to identify parameters that could serve as a basis for breeding against BS. Furthermore, the genetic variation was monitored to determine whether it would be possible to breed based on these characteristics without simultaneously causing a critical reduction in genetic variation. Six phenotypic characteristics were correlated with the Brachycephalic Syndrome Functional (BSF) score. Among the morphometric risk factors, nostril stenosis (NS) and neck girth (NG) had the highest impact on the BSF score, accounting for 32% and 4% of the variation, respectively. The genetic variation in the population was comparable to other pure breeds, i.e. estimated and observed heterozygosity was 0.60 and the average inbreeding coefficient was 0.01. If only dogs with Grades 1 and 2 NS (no or only mild NS) were selected for breeding the mean BSF score would be reduced significantly. However, it would result in the exclusion of 81% of the population for breeding and this is not prudent. Excluding only dogs with severe stenosis (Grade 4) would exclude 50% of the population without any adverse impact on genetic variation within the population. Although exclusion of dogs with Grade 4 would result in an apparent reduction in the mean BSF score, this reduction is not significant. As NS accounts for 32% of the variation in BSF score, a possible long term strategy to reduce the prevalence of the BS in French bulldogs would seem to be a selection scheme that first excluded dogs with the most severe NS from breeding, gradually moving towards selecting dogs with lower NS grades. According to our findings there is no viable short term solution for reducing the prevalence of BS in the French bulldog population.
Why do people buy dogs with potential welfare problems related to extreme conformation and inherited disease? A representative study of Danish owners of four small dog breeds
By P. Sandøe, S. V. Kondrup, P. C. Bennett, B. Forkman, I. Meyer, H. F. Proschowsky, J. A. Serpell, T. B. Lund (2017).
PLOS ONE. PLOS.
A number of dog breeds suffer from welfare problems due to extreme phenotypes and high levels of inherited diseases but the popularity of such breeds is not declining. Using a survey of owners of two popular breeds with extreme physical features (French Bulldog and Chihuahua), one with a high load of inherited diseases not directly related to
Welfare in horse breeding
By M.L.H. Campbell & P. Sandøe (2015)
Veterinary Record. BMJ Publishing Group.
Welfare problems related to the way horses are bred, whether by coitus or by the application of artificial reproduction techniques (ARTs), have been given no discrete consideration within the academic literature. This paper reviews the existing knowledge base about welfare issues in horse breeding and identifies areas in which data is lacking. We suggest that all methods of horse breeding are associated with potential welfare problems, but also that the judicious use of ARTs can sometimes help to address those problems. We discuss how negative welfare effects could be identified and limited and how positive welfare effects associated with breeding might be maximised. Further studies are needed to establish an evidence base about how stressful or painful various breeding procedures are for the animals involved, and what the lifetime welfare implications of ARTs are for future animal generations.
History of companion animals and the companion animal sector
By P. Sandøe, S. Corr, C. Palmer & J. Serpell (2016)
Ch. 1 in Sandøe, P., Corr, S.A., and Palmer, C., Companion animal ethics. Wiley Blackwell.
Many households in the industrialised Western world own companion animals. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA, 2012) reported that just over a third of US households kept one or more dogs in 2011, and just under a third kept one or more cats (AVMA, 2012: p. 1). Figures are similar, though somewhat lower, in the European Union (EU) where, in 2010, just over 25% of households had at least one dog, and just under 25% had at least one cat, according to the European Pet Food Industry (FEDIAF, 2010). In most Western countries, the number of households keeping dogs and cats has been steadily growing for decades.
The AVMA (2012) also gives us information on people’s attitudes to the animals in their homes. Two-thirds of US dog owners see their dogs as members of the family; most of the rest, according to the survey, view them as ‘companions’ or ‘pets’. Over half the owners see cats as family members. For both species, the younger the owners, the more likely they are to view their animals as family members (AVMA, 2012: p. 14). According to a survey prepared for a pet food company in 2000, nearly half of American dog owners have taken their dog on vacation, and a similar number have celebrated their dog’s birthday (Ralston Purina, 2000). Thus the general trend is not only to allow dogs and cats into the family home but also – in these respects, at least – to treat them as members of the family.
Companion animal ethics
By P. Sandøe, S. Corr & C. Palmer (2013)
Luentokokoelma. Julkaisija Fennovet Oy.
Companion animal issues give rise to dilemmas and disagreements. These dilemmas and disagreements arise due to different interpretations of scientific findings, different understandings of what constitutes animal welfare, different views about which values matter, different ways of weighting or adding up the relevant values, and different ideas about how the relevant values should be put into practice. To explain how ethical priorities have evolved, first we give a brief overview of the history of current Western attitudes to animal companions, and how the veterinary and other professions developed to deal with companion animals. Next, two specific issues that give rise to dilemmas and disagreements in companion animal ethics are discussed: 1) the issue of whether all dogs should be routinely neutered; and 2) the issue of feeding and the related problems of canine and feline obesity.
Companion Animal Ethics (pdf)
By P. Sandøe, S. B. Christiansen & A. T. Kristensen (2008)
Ethics of animal use. Wiley-Blackwell.
The suggestion that the keeping of companion animals is just another way of using animals may upset some people. Rather, these people may argue, keeping animals as companions is a way of life that includes animals on a par with friends and members of the family. And the similarities are obvious: "Someone living with a pet is living with a family. A pet owner is greeted at the door when she returns at night; she has someone to sit on the couch with and share the television. There is someone she must shop for, feed and care for and who thus gives to her own life the paced, circular rhythm of family life." There is no doubt that for many owners of companion animals, the bond they share with their animals displays a number of similarities with the bond they share with human friends and family members, in particular children. The strength of this relation, the human-animal bond, is increasingly recognised and acknowledged when various situations involving companion animals are addressed. However, many also point out differences in animal-human and human-human relations. Certainly, an uncritical comparison of the former with the latter is misleading.