Companion Animals New Zealand is promoting a fresh way of looking at animal welfare in New Zealand, General Manager David Lloyd explains.
When people think of the term animal welfare, we often think of animals who are suffering or abandoned. But, actually, animal welfare affects all animals, whether they are in a home or not.
Can you tell if your animal enjoys their interactions with you, or is content with their living environment, or even likes the food you buy for them? Are you able to tell when your pet is happy? Knowing how our pets feel is key to providing for their welfare needs.
In our 2020 Companion Animal Survey, the majority of New Zealand pet owners told us they wanted to provide their animals with a good life, including the right feeding, best environment and lots of affection.
It was great to learn that most owners felt they knew when their pet is happy — they used reliable behavioural indicators such as a wagging tail in a dog and purring in a cat.
Being able to use accurate information about an animal’s emotional state and their ability to enjoy a good quality of life is important for a whole range of reasons, including when making difficult decisions such as the right time to end a pet’s life due to terminal illness.
Until recently, animal welfare assessments have traditionally relied on measures of physical health and changes in animal behaviour and physiology to understand an animal’s quality of life.
However, it is now widely accepted that quality of life is not simply the absence of disease or negative experiences, but also the behavioural expression of positive emotions such as those associated with comfort and pleasure.
There has been an increase in research to help us understand what is going on in an animal’s mind and to understand whether an animal has a life worth living or, even better, a good life.
In doing so, we need to be careful that we try to see the world through an animal’s eyes — rather than putting our emotions on them — and we need to be sure we aren’t misinterpreting their behavioural responses.
For example, some horse owners may feel that their animal being ‘excited’ means they are happy but excitement and stress can easily be confused. There are only so many ways an animal can express themself and different emotional states may present similar behaviours.
We owe it to our companion animals to learn as much as we can about their private inner world — so we can provide them with the best life they can have.