Animal welfare

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. 


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.

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Assessment of animal welfare in a veterinary context - a call for ethologists

By S. B. Christiansen & B. Forkman
Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Elsevier. 2007


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 is necessary and could benefit from the expertise, experience and more impartial position of ethologists. This work would be useful in both prospective and retrospective follow-up studies, and could support the assessments done on a daily basis by the practicing vet. As an inspiration for ethologists to get involved, suggestions are made of potential contributions from ethology to animal welfare assessment in a veterinary context. 

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The value of animal life: How should we balance quality against quantity?

By P. Sandøe & S. B. Christiansen
Animal Welfare. UFAW. 2007


In many situations choices must be made that will have an impact on the welfare of companion animals. Often one of the options will be to euthanase the animal in question. The way in which one views this option will depend not only on ones assessment of the quality of the animals life (or the lives of other affected parties), but also on how one values an animal life as such.

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