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Animal welfare

The American Animal Hospital Association recognizes that the veterinary profession has a responsibility to advocate and provide leadership for measures that respect and enhance the quality of life of animals.

AAHA supports excellence in animal care by talking with other concerned groups to develop positive actions that create, encourage, or mandate humane animal care, as well as measures that enhance the respect for, and quality of life of animals.

The concept of animal welfare is founded on the premise that humans have an ethical and moral obligation to act humanely toward animals in a manner that builds the bond between them. Therefore, animal welfare is a human responsibility requiring active attention to all aspects of animal health and wellbeing, including responsible husbandry, transport, and care, as well as humane housing, handling and, when necessary, euthanasia.

Consideration should be given to animals’ emotional as well as physical health and wellbeing as well as their ability to express behaviors that are considered normal for the species.

There may often be ethical and moral evaluations when resolving issues related to animal welfare. When controversy exists, or in the absence of evidence-based science, decisions should be made that support animal welfare and wellbeing.

Background:

Cats and dogs are sentient beings that have “the ability to feel, perceive, or experience subjectively” and are not only capable of feeling pain and distress, but are also able to experience positive emotional states such as pleasure or comfort, and conversely negative emotions such as anxiety and fear” according to AAHA’s statement on Sentience, which states that it’s imperative for veterinarians and caregivers to maintain a strong focus on animal welfare.

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) recommends that veterinarians “should be the leading advocates for the welfare of all animals, recognizing the key contribution that animals make to human society through food production, companionship, biomedical research, and education” (OIE, 2012). Additionally, the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE), together with the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) declare that “Veterinarians are, and must continually strive to be, the leading advocates for the good welfare of animals in a continually evolving society” (AVMA, 2014).

Additionally, veterinarians have a role in safeguarding human welfare by recognizing animal abuse and neglect, and its link with human abuse. WSAVA Animal Welfare Guidelines and One Health refer to the intricate relationship between the health of humans, the health of animals, and the health of the environment. When there is a zoonotic disease that instills fear in people, such as rabies or COVID-19, society sometimes has a knee-jerk reaction: Thoughts can quickly turn to euthanasia, which sometimes can occur in very inhumane ways. New research by World Animal Protection states that poor animal welfare practices in the trade and farming of wild animals and livestock provides the perfect breeding ground for viruses to mutate and spread. If animal welfare laws aren’t improved, we face the risk of disease outbreaks becoming more frequent.

It is well recognized that poor states of animal welfare also exist where there are poor states of human welfare, as found in countries or regions with emerging economies. Seventy-five percent of emerging infectious diseases (e.g., Ebola, HIV, SARS, COVID-19) have an animal origin according to the Center for Disease Control.

One Health issues can result in poor animal welfare, and the reverse is also true: Poor animal welfare can result in One Health issues.

David Benatar, professor of philosophy and director of the Bioethics Center at the University of Cape Town, says in his most recent book, The Human Predicament: A Candid Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions: 

". . . those who think that this is a Chinese problem rather than a human one should think again. There is no shortage of zoonoses that have emerged from human maltreatment of animals. The most likely origin of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), for example, is SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus), and the most likely way in which it crossed the species barrier is through blood of a nonhuman primate butchered for human consumption. In the future, we should fully expect our maltreatment of animals to wreak havoc on our own species."

Solutions to One Health should encompass good welfare. According to the World Health Organization, “euthanasia of dogs has not been shown to make any difference in the epidemiology of rabies” (rabies elimination in South-East Asia, WHO project ICP BCT 001, 2005).

Resources:

Behavior Guidelines and Protocols 

Condition Score Charts  

Environment 

Euthanasia 

Forensic Forms 

Handling & Restraint  

Mobile Apps 

Nursing Care 

Nutrition 

Pain  

Veterinary Oath 

Adopted by the American Animal Hospital Association Board of Directors March 1993. Revised October 2009. Last revised June 2021.