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Hypocritical humans: most people agree that pets should be properly looked after, yet most pets suffer because of human negligence

As my colleague Cat has written in a recent blog here, hundreds of thousands of children plead with their parents for a pet at Christmas, only to lose interest in them a few weeks later when the novelty wears off. Dogs Trust and other animal welfare groups continue to work to change this attitude of pets as "fun objects", reminding us that they are living creatures that need a lifetime of care. Unfortunately, despite the fact that 91% of people agree that it's important to care for pets properly, there's a mismatch between this aspiration and the reality. The once-yearly survey on pet welfare in the UK, by leading pet charity PDSA and YouGov shows that a high proportion of the UK's pets are badly neglected. As a direct consequence of human action (or inaction), many pets suffer from illness, loneliness, obesity and stress (which can lead in turn to aggressive behaviour). The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report delivers a useful annual insight into pet health and well-being. This is the third year the report has been published: it's become a good way of benchmarking the progress (or lack of progress) in animal welfare in this country. Some of the key findings in the latest report are worth highlighting. The overall picture The Animal Welfare Act has been in place since 2006, placing an obligation on owners to provide adequately for their pets in five key areas: environment, behaviour, health, diet and companionship. Yet only 38% of owners are familiar with the laws that govern pet ownership – a decrease of 7% (940,000 pet owning households) since the first report in 2011. Dogs
  • Fewer dogs than ever before are getting enough exercise with 2.7 million (35%) not getting daily off-the-lead exercise - an increase of around 600,000 dogs since 2011.
  • Pet nutrition is also a problem area, with 53% of pets being given human food leftovers as treats. This combination of low levels of exercise combined with over-indulging in food has resulted in around a third of the UK's dog population being classified as "obese" - a serious animal welfare issue.
  • People tend to blame pets for "bad behaviour", but we humans are the ones who are responsible for the stress and boredom in our pets that lead to this. The proportion of dogs left alone for five hours or more on a regular basis has increased significantly from 18% to 25% - leaving around 1.9 million UK dogs home alone for longer than recommended. Excessive barking and destructive behaviour are the direct consequence..
  • It's now accepted as standard good practice that young dogs should attend dog training classes, yet around 4.5 million (58%) of dogs don't do this in the first six months of life. A lack of training and little or no socialisation can lead to inappropriate or aggressive behaviour later in life. Perhaps unsurprisingly, around two thirds (63%) of pet owners have been frightened or concerned by another dog’s behaviour.
Cats
  • We already knew that around one in four cats are overweight: now we know why. The survey shows that a tiny 5% of owners take their pet’s body shape and weight into account before deciding how much to feed.
  • Simple preventive treatments such as vaccinations and neutering can help prevent cats from developing many life-threatening conditions, yet 25% of cats never receive a vaccination and 7% are not spayed or neutered. These cats are unlikely to live as long and healthy lives as they deserve.
Rabbits
  • 650,000 (65%) UK rabbits live on their own: rabbits are a highly social species, enjoying the company of other rabbits, so this level of "rabbit loneliness" is shockingly high.
  • 18% of rabbits (180,000) have no opportunity for daily exercise. This figure has risen dramatically since 2011 (4%) which means 140,000 more rabbits are not getting the daily exercise they need to stay fit and healthy.
What about you?  How do you measure up on the care of pets in your home? The PDSA charity is calling on animal lovers everywhere to take part in the PDSA Big Pet Check by visiting www.abetterlifeforpets.org.uk. Take the test, and come back here after, to let us know how you get on.  
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Pets are not presents! – why giving bath salts is the best gift this Christmas

So, it’s Christmas, hurrah! Unfortunately that also means it’s time to start dashing round over-crowded, over-heated shopping centres with what seems like the entire population of this sceptred isle desperately trying to find the ‘ideal thing’ for relatives you never liked much in the first place, then giving up and buying bath salts on a three for two offer. Then it hits you, the perfect gift! A pet! Who can resist a small bundle of fluff and you will be in the good books forever! No! Bad idea! The Dog’s Trust’s slogan ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’ is over 30 years old and yet it is as relevant today as it was back then. Sadly, many people still buy animals as gifts at this time of year (it’s not just dogs) and although I am sure many go on to be adored family pets, many are given up in the New Year. Most charities report a spike in abandonments in January and many close for rehoming over the Christmas period to discourage impulse rescues. If you are buying a pet as a gift, at any time of year, you have to make sure the recipient really wants one and has thought carefully about their care. Which, to be honest, rather defeats the point of it being a surprise and I think this is the part (the absolutely, flipping VITAL part!) that the gifter forgets. Dogs are probably the most labour intensive pet; they need walking, training (puppy poo on the carpet is never fun to clean up but is especially annoying on Christmas day when you have so much else to do) and most will live for at least ten years. They also need a lot of stuff; beds, collars, bowls etc - are you going to buy all that as well, or just dump the pup and run? All animals, from cats to rats and all inbetween, have to come with accessories, need a committed and knowledgeable owner and don’t forget you are signing them up for on-going costs; food, flea treatment and, of course, the dreaded vets bills! Will you be covering these as well, you generous present giver you?! Also, think about it from the animals point of view. Whether they are an adult rescue pet or, more likely, an innocent, wide eyed (so cute!) baby animal, they are coming into a new home and environment which is stressful at the best of times. Now add in a huge sparkling tree, decorations, relatives, over-excited children and it is hardly a calm and relaxing introduction to their new family. A new pet should be the focus of attention in their first few days but this does NOT mean being manhandled by every visitor though the door and dressed in a festive outfit! Look, I am all in favour of people owning pets (it keeps in me a job after-all) but I am more in favour of those animals being owned by people who really want them, who thought long and hard about having them and who can afford them. It may be that they were bought as a gift but, and this is an important distinction, not as a surprise. So, step away from the pet shop, put down the phone to the breeder, shut down rescue website and just give them the flipping bath salts!
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