Every year, the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals – PDSA – releases a “state of the nation” report about pet health in the UK. And the 2018 report has now been released! In this blog, we’re going to take a quick look at their key findings, and reflect on what we can all do to make Britain a better place for our pets.
What is the PAW Report?
Every year, PDSA surveys a wide range of UK pet owners, asking them a series of questions about pet health and wellbeing. They work with the polling organisation YouGov to make sure the people they ask are representative of the population as a whole; for this year’s survey, they asked 4639 people for their opinions! However, it doesn’t end there… The PAW Report also includes sections from veterinary professionals (vets and vet nurses), collected through the Voice of the Profession surveys by the BVA and BVNA*. These are regular snapshot surveys of vets and vet nurses (and as it happens, I’m on the panel for this!), and this year included 888 vets and vet nurses, as well as 549 who were surveyed directly by the PDSA.
The results of all these surveys are then statistically analysed by YouGov and PDSA before the Report is put together.
* British Veterinary Association and British Veterinary Nursing Association
So what does it say?
The Report is divided into five sections, on animal welfare, pet ownership, and then specific issues affecting dogs, cats and rabbits.
Although most people are now aware of the Animal Welfare Act (after all, it’s only been in law for 12 years…), an amazing 25% of the pet-owning public have apparently never heard of it. This might also explain the limited knowledge of some of the Five Welfare Needs, with the need for companionship being forgotten by 82% of those surveyed. This is important because previous research has shown that lower knowledge of animal welfare law and the welfare needs is associated with a reduction in appropriate preventative care.
49% of adults in the UK own a pet; cats, after a dip last year, are up in 2018, to a five year high of 11.1 million, while dog ownership is down slightly to 8.9 million, as is rabbit ownership at 1 million. There is also a worryingly large number of people – 24% overall, and 31% for cat owners – who didn’t feel the need to do any research or have any experience before getting a pet.
The key findings about dog health and welfare are stark – 16% of dogs aren’t walked every day, and nearly a quarter (24%) are left alone for long periods on a regular basis – up from 19% last year. While it is possible that some of these dogs are happy on their own, for the vast majority, this is a serious source of stress and anxiety. Over 600,000 UK dogs are reported as showing some signs consistent with separation anxiety and loneliness, so this is a very real problem that needs to be addressed.
The pet obesity epidemic continues, with vets estimating 46% of the dogs they see are overweight or obese – while 40% of dog owners do not know their pet’s current weight or body condition score. The report speculates that treats given to entertain lonely pets, and the lack of regular exercise, may be factors behind the increasing waistline of the nation’s dogs!
On a more positive note, 91% of dogs are now microchipped, as is legally required, 90% are registered with a vet, and 88% have given their dogs some sort of training. While there are still important improvements to be made here, the vast majority of dog owners seem to be getting it right in these areas.
The trends are similar to dogs, with “only” 34% estimated at overweight or obese, but nevertheless owners less informed, and only 35% knowing their cat’s current weight or body condition score. With 43% of cats living in multi-cat households, the survey also finds some areas where cat owners could do more to reduce stress in their cats, such as providing more litter trays and scratching posts. This is especially important as 77% of owners say that their cats exhibit unwanted behaviour, and 89% say that their cat has some significant fears!
Vet registration is remarkably high, at 81%, which is relatively good; and neutering is excellent, with 9 in 10 cats being neutered – vital given the population issues. That said, vaccination, flea, and worming treatments are less regular than would be ideal, so there is still work to do.
Unfortunately, rabbit welfare is poorer than we’d like to see, with 28% living in a hutch or cage that is too small, and over half (54%) living alone – which is terrible for such a social animal. Preventative health is also very weak, with only 66% of rabbits registered with a vet, and vaccination levels dropping dramatically over the last few years, with only half receiving their primary course. Flea treatment is very low at 21%, although that is at least higher than last year!
What conclusions can we draw?
Overall, we still have a lot of work to do! While deliberate neglect seems to be pretty uncommon, neglect due to ignorance seems to be much more widespread. In particular, the idea that a rabbit is a sentient, suffering creature seems to be slow to get off the ground – although the situation is much better than it was ten or fifteen years ago.
Our conclusion is that the key has to be education, education, education – and to be completely honest, vets and vet nurses are, in general, best placed to provide that. It might be through face to face conversations, or veterinary websites (like us!) or social media presence – and doesn’t have to cost you anything! Ultimately, as vets we need to work to make sure that the message gets out there; and as owners committed to the welfare of your pets, you need to share the message!
I’m going to close with Richard Hooker’s thoughts (he’s the Director of Veterinary Services at PDSA):
“Addressing the multiple factors behind the persisting shortfalls in pet wellbeing will never be an easy task, but it’s a challenge that we are committed to in continuing our mission to provide a lifetime of wellbeing for every pet.”
If you want to read the full report, you can find it here.