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5 Welfare needs in pets - what do they mean?

Modern animal welfare laws are designed to give guidance to animal owners as well as punishing infractions, and there are two key components - the Codes of Practice, and the Five Welfare Needs. The Codes of Practice are written by DEFRA and give guidance for the care all common (and some not-so common!) species. For example, you can look up the Code for Dogs, for Cats, and for Reptiles, In this blog, though, we’re going to focus on the Five Welfare Needs, where they come from, what they say and what they mean.

Law into Practice

The UK has had animal protection laws for many years - indeed, there was a Protection of Animals Act on the statute book as early as 1911. However, these laws were limited by the fact that the animal had to have suffered before any crime had been committed. The problem was that there was no way to take action against people who were neglecting or otherwise risking their pets health, but who had not yet caused harm (even if their actions made harm inevitable).

In the 1990s there was a lot of work done by the Farm Animal Welfare Council to codify the welfare requirements of farm animals, and these became known as the “Five Freedoms”. The system was so effective that, in the early 2000s, the Government used them as the basis for the Animal Welfare Act 2005. However, flexible as the Five Freedoms were, they weren’t entirely suited to pets. So, they were rewritten into the modern “Five Welfare Needs”.

The Five Needs

The needs are a series of requirements that all animals have if they are to thrive and live healthy, happy lives. So, all animals need:

1)        A suitable environment

2)        A suitable diet

3)        To be able to exhibit normal behaviour

4)        To have suitable companionship

5)        To be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease

Of course, these sound pretty broad and vague, but that’s because, as long as you have a little knowledge, they can be applied to any animal, anywhere!

How do we interpret them?

Fundamentally, by matching them to the animal’s species-specific requirements. So, for example, a suitable diet for a cat would be meat based; however, feeding the same diet to a rabbit would be horrible for them! Likewise, a guinea pig needs friends of their own species; however, a hamster should be kept on its own. We should also try and factor in individual requirements - for species such as cats, for example, one individual might be friendly and gregarious, and the next may despise and hate all other cats!

What do they mean?

Fundamentally, it means that an owner or keeper of animals can’t rely on the “they’re all right, no harm came of it” defence. Instead, it is a criminal offence not to make suitable provision for your pets - to cover all five points. So, for example, a morbidly obese dog is no more receiving a “suitable diet” than a thin and emaciated one - and both owners would be equally liable in law for breaching their pet’s Welfare Needs.

Of course, no-one wants to hurt their pets. However, the Five Needs do provide a framework to help us provide them with better care, no matter how well we’re doing already. By working our way through them, we can make sure that all our animals are getting the care that they deserve!

Are you worried about how to care for your pets? If so, don’t panic - come and see us for advice and we’ll help you!