Study highlights gap in owner knowledge of pet needs

Study highlights gap in owner knowledge of pet needs

We all know that having a companion animal can be immensely beneficial in all sorts of ways, but a recent study suggests that owner knowledge of their needs may be sadly lacking…

A lack of owner knowledge around the welfare needs of domesticated animals came out as a top issue in a recent study which was commissioned by the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF) and published with peer review during the summer.

The study, led by Professor Cathy Dwyer and the late Fiona C. Rioja Lang of Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education at The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, used a modified Delphi approach to help pinpoint the most pressing welfare issues of farm and companion animals in the UK.

The process incorporated a Delphi conference, two anonymous surveys and a final workshop to derive the overall priorities. Experts gave their opinion on each welfare issue considering severity, duration and perceived prevalence.

A total of 117 animal welfare experts were asked to survey and rank various issues and found that a gap in owner knowledge appeared to be the overarching theme across all eight of the domestic species they looked at, which included dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, poultry and pigs.

Professor Cathy Dwyer concedes that some potential pet owners don’t give a lot of thought to the challenge of animal care or do much research before taking on the care of an animal

‘There’s also a lot of conflicting information about for owners, especially I think in the area of training, so it can be hard for pet owners to be sure that they are accessing good quality information,’ says Professor Dwyer. ‘For animal keepers that have inherited knowledge or where knowledge has been passed down through generations, information can be out-of-date but it can be hard to change those approaches.’

In her paper, entitled ‘Prioritisation of animal welfare issues in the UK’, Professor Dwyer explains that in some cases, it appeared that knowledge was available and known by researchers or veterinarians but not always adequately communicated and understood by animal owners or keepers. In other cases, the information was unavailable and more research was required. She also highlights external barriers that can prevent proper care such as economic factors, time and access restrictions.

‘Education is very important and finding ways for owners to access good quality information, ideally before they buy their animals, is essential. This is a key role that vets can play in helping owners provide good welfare for their animals. It has been a great project that has produced a lot of what I hope is useful data,’ she went on.

AWF will use the study as a basis for its future work as well as informing how it provides grants for further research in animal welfare.

The chair of its trustees, Chris Laurence says that the aim of the study was highlight those issues of veterinary welfare which are most significant from the animals’ perspective:

‘It will help guide where the Animal Welfare Foundation directs its effort in the future and we hope it will do so for other funding bodies and researchers too. We have already started to address some of the issues raised in a call for research projects and hope that we will be able to continue to address the major concerns raised in this paper,’ added Mr Laurence.

‘This is an incredibly complex piece of work which provides other professions in the animal health and welfare world some firm footing to address some of its conclusions. I would like to thank all of the team involved in conducting the study as well as paying tribute to Dr Rioja Lang who is tragically no longer with us but conducted much of this great work.’