We are a nation of animal lovers and in the UK the vast majority of pet owners do an amazing job of making sure that their pets are safe, in good health and happy. It is also comforting to know that the requirement to ensure the welfare of all animals has its own law. There are five basic needs for all animals set out in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, that most owners will meet without even knowing about the Act.

In this blog we talk about the five needs, so pet owners can apply them to real-life settings and ensure they are meeting them with their own pets.

The need for a suitable environment.

This is one of the welfare needs that can be used right at the start of responsible pet ownership, as it can determine the type of pet chosen by a potential owner. Whilst the basic environmental needs are an animal requiring a warm, dry and comfortable place to sleep with access to toileting facilities (such as the outside or a litter tray), individual species and size need to be considered as well.

An example of this is a large working breed dog will require more space to live – especially an outside space to exercise properly, whereas a smaller breed dog may need less space, but still enough to have adequate exercise and privacy.

The animal’s personality should also be considered, for example if you know the cat you are going to home is shy or nervous, they probably wouldn’t appreciate a busy home with lots going on. If you are thinking of having an indoor cat, is the environment suitable for them? Do they have enough places to have privacy, exercise and stimulation?

The need for suitable diet.

There is a vast number of diets on the market and as vets we always advise feeding your pet the best diet you can, with good nutrition and ingredients. But it goes deeper than that, because a suitable diet can be very specific. As an example a rabbit should have 80 to 90% hay or grass in their diet, to help keep their guts moving and their constantly growing teeth at a good length from the chewing motion.

Puppies and kittens also need foods high in nutritional value and that have been carefully formulated to promote healthy development.
Overfeeding can lead to obesity which in itself is another welfare issue, which is why pets should be fed a diet that is tailored to their species, body condition, age and health – some foods are even produced for specific breeds.

The need to exhibit normal behavioural patterns.

Mental well-being in pets is one of the five needs. Having a suitable environment where the pet is safe and warm is only part of the requirement they need. Even if a working dog has a large garden, do they have enough stimulation? Are they able to exercise, play and interact with other people or pets?

Cats can be inquisitive by nature, and like to explore, climb and make their own territories. If your cat is an indoor type, it is still just as important that they can display natural behavioural patterns. Somewhere to climb, hide and explore – as well as sharpen their claws!

Pets that display contented normal behavioural patterns are less likely to be destructive from boredom, frustration and anxiety.

The need to be housed with or apart from other animals.

This is again specific to species, for example whether they are the type of animal that would be in a pack in the wild or prefer to be alone. Small furries such as rabbits, rats and mice have a normal desire to live with a friend, whereas cats and dogs can be much more individual. Even though dogs are pack animals, their own personalities can determine whether they prefer companionship of another dog or you as their human.

Any pet that lives with you by themselves, will look to you for companionship and play – which as responsible owners, we must always fulfil.

The need to be protected from pain, suffering and disease.

Just as humans feel pain, pets are also sentient and feel pain and discomfort. As owners we must do our best to ensure that our pets are as pain-free as possible. This can include when pets are older and perhaps suffering from painful arthritis. To do everything we can and improve their situation, regular vet visits should be made and advice given by professionals acted upon.

To own an animal should be considered a privilege and it is up to us as humans to show responsibility and exceed these five welfare needs, helping the nations pets to be healthy, safe and happy.