Ensuring companion animal welfare: updated Codes of Practice

Published 14/06/2018   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

The Welsh Government has said that animal welfare is a priority. One of the strategic outcomes of its Wales Animal Health and Welfare Framework (PDF 397KB) is that ‘animals in Wales have a good quality of life’. The Framework covers the health and welfare of farmed livestock, working animals and ‘companion animals’. But what are companion animals, and what are the mechanisms to ensure their welfare?

Companion animals are animals that are intended as or kept as pets. The National Survey for Wales conducted in 2014-15 found that 47% of households owned a pet (PDF 490KB). Of those households, 62% reported owning a dog and 39% reported owning a cat. Other animals kept as pets in Wales include fish, birds, rabbits, reptiles, horses/ponies and other small furry animals.

The legal duty for owners, or those responsible for animals, to ensure welfare needs are met is outlined in the Animal Welfare Act 2006. This Act brings together animal welfare legislation and applies to both farmed and non-farmed animals. The standard of care required by law has been outlined by the Welsh Government in Codes of Practice. These Codes contain practical guidance and have been developed for common companion animals (dogs, cats, horses and rabbits) as well as some farmed animals. Although failure to comply with a Code of Practice is not itself an offence, the extent of compliance with the Code can be used as evidence against those suspected of animal welfare offences. For example, RSPCA Cymru Inspectors often use the Codes of Practice in determining whether someone has committed an offence.

The Welsh Government reviewed the animal welfare Code of Practice for dogs and horses in 2017. This review was conducted to update the Codes of Practice to reflect recent changes in science and legislation. The Animal Welfare Network Wales worked with the Welsh Government to review and update the Codes. Public consultations were then launched in late 2017 to collect stakeholder views on the amendments. The summaries of both consultations, published in May 2018, include the following statement (PDF 432KB) from the Welsh Government:

Comments and suggested amendments will, where appropriate, be incorporated in to the Code. A final draft of the Code will be laid before the National Assembly for Wales for 40 days.

As yet, there have been no further updates of Welsh Government action in response to either consultation.

Code of Practice for the welfare of dogs

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Recommendations from the 10 responses to the consultation (PDF 432KB) include:

  • Add a section on the responsible online purchase of dogs;
  • Outline that punitive or aversive training techniques, equipment and methods can seriously compromise dog welfare and should be avoided;
  • Incorporate body condition diagrams to ensure the descriptions are easily understandable;
  • Highlight the Dogs Die in Hot Cars campaign;
  • Provide examples of stimulation for dogs; and
  • Additional clarification for outside housing requirements, such as there should be a maximum/minimum temperature, and the space should allow for dogs to stand upright and fully turn around.

Stakeholders also called for proposals to raise the profile of the Code, particularly within groups of people who are less likely to be aware of their duty of care. RSPCA Cymru suggested increasing the accessibility of the Code, for example by ensuring the online format is compatible with all platforms such as mobiles.

Code of practice for the welfare of horses

Llun o geffyl Recommendations from the 12 responses to the consultation (PDF 302KB) include:

  • Add advice on typical equine behaviours, including outlining the different behaviours of horses, donkeys and mules;
  • Highlight that as horses are herd animals, owners should consider whether there will be access to other animals on the premises, and to be aware of any conflicts arising within a group of animals;
  • Incorporate further information on available vaccinations, such as for equine influenza;
  • Access to hard standing for purposes of veterinary treatment including for animals capable of living outdoors throughout the year; and
  • List the types of fencing suitable for horses, and to check fencing on a daily basis.

Stakeholders also called for the Code to be presented in a useable format, and to ensure consistency of design and language across the different Codes of Practice such as publishing summary documents for all Codes.

Article co-authored by Dr Lindsay Walker, ESRC IAA Fellow with the National Assembly for Wales Research Service, and Dr Katy Orford, National Assembly for Wales Research Service.