Browsing tag: animal welfare

Caring for your new rabbit – essentials for proper bunny welfare

Did the Easter bunny come this year?  Not the imaginary kind that drops off chocolate, the real kind that lives for 10 years or more and deserves to have a better life than being trapped in a hutch at the bottom of the garden.  If they did, or you are thinking of getting one, here’s my guide on how to care for them.

Diet

The majority of problems that vets see in rabbits are related to an inadequate diet.  So, if you get their food right, you will give your pet the best chance of a healthy life!

The mainstay of a rabbit’s diet should be hay and every day they should eat a pile as big as they are. Rabbits have teeth that are constantly growing and chewing on hay keeps them in good shape.  One of the most common issues for rabbits is sharp, overgrown teeth that can be so painful they stop eating altogether. Hay is also vital for healthy digestion, particularly important in rabbits for whom diarrhoea can be fatal.

Rabbits should also have a handful of fresh food everyday and a small amount (a tablespoon at most) of hard, pelleted food.  Avoid the museli mixes as these allow your pet to pick out their favourites and become short on vital vitamins.  For the majority of their day, your rabbits bowl should be empty (just like a dog or cat!), so they only have their hay to nibble on.

Vaccinations

All rabbits should be vaccinated annually against Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD).  These are both fatal and vaccination is the only protection.  The injections can be given from 8 weeks of age.  This visit to the surgery is also an opportunity for your vet to ensure your new pet is healthy and for you to ask any questions.

Neutering

Having your rabbit neutered is very important.  Females should be spayed when they are around 6 months and males can be castrated from 4 months.  Entire rabbits can be grumpy, prone to biting and often urine spray, so not great pets!  Also, 80% of entire female rabbits will develop uterine cancer in later life.

Training and handling

Rabbits are prey animals, so they are naturally nervous.  This can mean they can be flighty and startle easily.   As soon as you get your new rabbit, work with them to gain their confidence.  Sit on the floor with them, offer treats, encouragement and try to get them to come to you.  Don’t pick them up until they are used to you and always handle them calmly but firmly.

Also, rabbits should never be kept alone.  For a social animal, solitary confinement is akin to torture.  Neutered pairs of the opposite sex work best and they can be bonded in later life, if they have previously lived alone.

Parasites

The most common parasite in rabbits is a fur mite. It causes flaky, itchy skin and is easily treated with veterinary ´spot-on´ drops. They can also get fleas, just like dogs and cats, and again these are easily treated with veterinary products.  They can also suffer from internal parasites (worms) but they are not common.

Fly Strike

Fly strike is a horrific, and often deadly, problem.  It develops when flies lay their eggs on the dirty fur around a rabbit’s backend.  These develop into maggots which burrow into the rabbit’s flesh, causing huge pain and damage, often within just a few hours.  This is why all rabbits should be handled and checked at least twice daily and there are preventative treatments available from your vets.

Pet Insurance

There are now several companies which provide insurance policies for rabbits and it is something all rabbit owners should consider.

Rabbit are entertaining, inquisitive and rewarding but they do need the similar levels of care and attention as other pets.  They are not the low maintenance, children’s pet  many people think they are.  Hopefully this article has helped you if you do have a bun and if it has inspired you to own one, get in touch your local rescue, they always have rabbits needing loving homes!

Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS – Read more of her blogs at www.catthevet.com

If you have any worries about your rabbit or any pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.

Banning no-stun slaughter in the UK: a step forwards for animal welfare or a populist anti-religious minority measure?

The issue of  ”no-stun slaughter” has hit the headlines in the UK press this week and there’s a fair bit of confusion about what’s going on. The current discussion has been prompted by the British Veterinary Association’s petition to end no-stun slaughter in the UK. It’s a debate that’s long overdue: consumers should have a right to know the background to the meat that they’re eating, and currently in the UK and Ireland, it’s impossible to tell if an animal was stunned or not prior to slaughter. That’s not fair to the consumer, and the absence of the need to declare the type of slaughter is likely to increase the number of animals that are killed without being stunned first, so it’s unfair to animals too.

Killing is by definition an unpleasant business, with physical trauma to a living creature and spilling of blood. For some individuals, animal slaughter is so abhorrent, that vegetarianism is the only answer (7 – 11% of the UK population is vegetarian, with twice as many women as men). But for the majority of citizens in the United Kingdom, meat is a desirable part of the diet, and slaughtering animals is seen as a necessary part of society. Legislation has been put into place to ensure that animals suffer as little as possible during the process, and this is enough to satisfy most people.

To ensure that animals do not suffer as they die, the law insists that the animal is first stunned e.g. with a captive bolt applied to the brain, or via a strong electric shock to the head. This pre-stunning means that the animal is completely unaware when its throat is cut a few minutes later: there is no sensation of the knife passing through the flesh, nor the blood draining away.
There is one exception to this rule: so-called ritual, or no-stun slaughter. When this is done, the throat is cut with a sharp knife with no preamble, and the animal is conscious for that short period as it bleeds to death. In the current media debate, the meat industry seems to be blurring the lines of what this means: a spokesman for the British Meat Processors Association is reported as saying “What kills the animal is having its vital arteries cut; it doesn’t die from stunning”.  He seems to be avoiding the fact that there’s a gap between having the vital arteries cut and dying, and during that gap, the animal is conscious of what’s happening to it. When an animal has been stunned, there is no such consciousness of what’s going on.

No-stun slaughter is an important part of some religious communities. Current animal welfare legislation requires all animals to be stunned before slaughter apart from exceptions for those religious groups: Dhabihah slaughter for Halal food as part of the Islam faith, and Shechita slaughter for Kosher food as part of Jewish beliefs. There is variation within religious communities, with some Muslims accepting meat pre-stunned electrically and some not. Around 80% of Halal meat is currently pre-stunned: this fact makes the debate murky when newspapers like the Daily Mail talk about “Halal meat” being the issue, rather than “no-stun slaughter”.

The Muslim and Jewish communities comprise just 4-5% of the British population. Around 3% of cattle, 10% of sheep and goats and 4% of poultry are killed by non-stun slaughter in the UK (pigs, or course, are never killed in this way because pork is not eaten by these religious communities).

No-stun slaughter of sheep and goats increased by 70% between 2003 and 2011 to 1.5 million animals a year. Non-stun slaughter of poultry increased 300% in the same period to 32 million. Part of the reason for this increase is that non-stun slaughter meat enters the mainstream food chain without being labelled: it’s more convenient for the food industry to have “no-stun” meat as a default: it can be eaten by all consumers, whereas pre-stunned meat cannot be eaten by religious communities. It is partly this increasing trend towards no-stun slaughter that has motivated animal welfare advocates to press for action on this issue.

On the face of it, the argument is straightforward: if we have standards for animal welfare that we believe in, we should stick to those standards, even if it means stopping ritual slaughter. In practice, it is more complicated: bans of ritual slaughter target Muslim and Jewish minorities, so legitimate animal welfare concerns get mixed up with anti-semitic and anti-immigrant voices. This can make it difficult to be against ritual slaughter without being accused of being racist. And it can mean that the strongest political allies against no-stun slaughter include political parties with anti-minority views.

After many years of debate on this issue, the British Veterinary Association (BVA), with the support of the RSPCA, has recently launched a government e-petition to end non-stun slaughter. The BVA hopes to achieve 100,000 signatures to the e-petition, which would mean that the government would have to have a debate on the issue in the House of Commons. Within a few days, over 11000 signatures were received and the number is rapidly climbing. No-stun slaughter is about to become an active political debate in the UK.
So far slaughter without prior stunning has been banned in Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Sweden and Poland. Will the UK soon join this group?

Marius the giraffe – right or wrong? The great divide

“Danish zoo kills healthy giraffe and feeds it to the lions”
The headlines are appalling, and the international outcry has been almost as dramatic as if the Danish zoo authorities had fed a human to the lions. Do the protesters have a point, or is the zoo simply being honest about an unfortunate but necessary situation?
The answer to this question highlights a major divide in the broad community of animal lovers: those who are in favour of animal rights, and those who believe in animal welfare.

Animal rights people believe that animals have similar rights to humans. Animals are sentient, living individuals, often referred to as “non-human persons”. They have a right to exist and to be granted the Five Freedoms – freedom from pain and disease, freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom to express natural behaviours and freedom from fear and distress. They also believe that animals have the right to life, and that humans do not have the right to take that life away. People who believe in animal rights really  ought to be vegans, since they do not believe in the right of humans to exploit animals for meat or milk. They believe that animals should not be viewed as property, or used for food, clothing, research, entertainment or as beasts of burden. They believe that animals deserve equal consideration to humans: if animals are not given equal rights, this is “speciesism” which is as bad as racism. They believe that in the future, we will look back on our time and see our attitude to animals in the same way as we currently view human slavery.

Animal welfare people believe that  non-human animals are sentient and that efforts should be ensure their well-being, especially when they are under the care of humans. However they do not believe that animals have the same rights as humans. They also believe that animals deserve the Five Freedoms, but they believe that humans have the right to decide what happens to animals, which includes taking the animal’s life in a humane manner in some circumstances. They believe that it’s acceptable to farm animals for meat and milk, as long as the animals have a life worth living while they are farmed, and as long as the animal’s death takes place in a way that is free of fear and pain. They believe that it’s acceptable to use animals for food, clothing, research, entertainment or as beasts of burden as long as the Five Freedoms are not impaired. Animal welfare people do not believe that animals have a right to life, justice or freedom. This is the most widely held view in the Western world today: that it is morally and ethically acceptable for humans to use non-human animals, provided that adverse effects on animal welfare are kept to a minimum.

So what about Marius the giraffe?

The protesters about the zoo in Denmark are seeing the situation from an animal rights perspective, whereas the zoo defends their stance from an animal welfare point of view.

The animal rights stance would say that Marius the giraffe was a “non-human person”, and that it’s outrageous that his life was taken. They also believe that the zoo compounded the unfairness by butchering Marius in public (even with children looking on) and then feeding him to the lions. This showed lack of respect to Marius, and an uncaring attitude to an adorable creature.

The animal welfare stance would understand the perspective of the zoo, which has stated that the giraffe was surplus to its own requirements,and there was no simple alternative. The options that were available included rehoming to non-accredited wildlife parks and private sanctuaries, and the zoo was concerned that they would lose control of the giraffe, and that he might end up in an inappropriate situation where he was suffering. The zoo believed that quick, pain-free death was a better alternative for the giraffe than to take that risk. The zoo would say that millions of cattle, pigs and sheep are killed in the same way every day and nobody complains about them, so what’s the difference?

The problem is this: onlookers see the zoo’s attitude as disingenuous. Zoos are quick to humanise their animals when it suits them, such as when they ask the public to sponsor individual creatures, or when they advertise to encourage visitors. They are happy to create an animal-rights type illusion of the animals being “furry people”, and the public are happy to accept this. Most of us are animal rights believers at some level, especially when considering animals (such as our pets) that are well-known to us. And when an animal has been given a name, and has featured in attractive photographs, we also like to take an animal rights view on behalf of that creature.

Yet the reality is that zoos take an animal welfare stance, and so do most of us when we do not know the individual animals. How many of us are vegans? Perhaps 1%? If we put our money where our mouths are, then 99% of us are animal welfarists, not animal rights believers, at least when it comes to farm animals.

But we don’t like it when our pockets of animal rights belief (like Marius) are blatantly treated with animal welfare rules. The zoo has clearly not understood this, and their “practical” approach of publicly butchering the animal and feeding him to the lions has compounded their error.

Whether they are right or wrong, the zoo has created an image of uncaring arrogance which does not serve animals or the zoo’s purpose well. It’s a PR disaster. The zoo has lost a sea of international supporters and the animal rights argument against the continuing existence of zoos has moved one step forwards

 

 

Pedigree Dogs Exposed: five years on, do dogs suffer less?

It’s hard to believe that it’s already five years since the BBC documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, was first broadcast. The programme stirred up unprecedented controversy about the practice of breeding and showing pedigree dogs in the UK. In the aftermath, the BBC cancelled its long standing high profile coverage of Crufts, and major sponsors backed out of supporting the Kennel Club’s flagship event. Promises were made that “things would change”, investigating committees were set up and reports were issued.

Five years is a significant period of time, so it’s an appropriate benchmark to pause, and to ask the question: are things better than they were? After all the talk, have things improved?

Perhaps predictably, the answer to this question depends on one’s perspective.

Jemima Harrison, the producer of the documentary, has continued to campaign for the Kennel Club to make more changes, more rapidly. She is clear about her opinion: “Five years on from Pedigree Dogs Exposed, the Kennel Club is still in denial about the extent of the problems. It is unethical to continue to breed dogs like Pugs and Bulldogs which have such flat faces that they cannot breathe – and yet the Kennel Club registers these breeds in their growing thousands and these dogs continue to be celebrated at Kennel Club shows. The Kennel Club has done too little to tackle the suffering these and many other breeds endure, despite an increasing amount of science which both articulates the issues and offers solutions. The dogs continue to pay a huge price.”

The RSPCA seems to take a more conciliatory stance, acknowledging the progress made by the Kennel Club and dog breeders, including the development of DNA and health screening tests for hereditary diseases and the introduction of veterinary checks on ‘high profile’ breeds but the charity still believes that much more should have been done. The charity is running a “Born To Suffer campaign and petition“, calling for breed standards to be changed even more than they have been to date, “so that they prioritise the health, welfare and temperament of a dog over its looks.”

Meanwhile the Kennel Club itself, on its own website, disagrees, maintaining that “for many years, the Kennel Club has devoted itself to improving the health and welfare of dogs and is committed to ensuring that every dog’s life is as healthy and happy as it can possibly be.” Furthermore, “the Kennel Club has introduced a large number of initiatives to help improve the lives of thousands of dogs and continues to develop new programmes and educational resources to progress dog health in the future.”

Is it possible to find a middle ground viewpoint? The Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding should surely be listened to: this independent group was set up specifically to analyse the issues brought to the fore by Pedigree Dogs Exposed. The Advisory Council has released a statement that is worth reading, giving a detailed update of progress that has been made, acknowledging that while some of the RSPCA’s “wish list” should be addressed, others ( such as the RSPCA’s call for a ban on registration of dogs born from a dam’s second caesarean) would be a step too far.

By the way, I don’t want to accuse Jemima Harrison of being over-critical of the Kennel Club: in  a recent blog post she even acknowledges that it could be “half-true” that the Kennel Club is now seen “as part of the solution”. She does give credit when she believes credit is due. In her latest blog post, published this week, Jemima compares the situation in the UK with that in Germany, where the second anniversary has just taken place of the airing of the German equivalent of Pedigree Dogs Exposed. She explains that the German programme “did not provoke the reform in Germany that Pedigree Dogs Exposed triggered here in the UK”, and that the follow up programme, broadcast last week, “holds up the UK Kennel Club as something of an exemplar”.

So while it would be very wrong to be complacent, and while the world of pedigree dogs may sometimes still seem bleak in the UK, it’s perhaps at least somewhat reassuring to reflect that it could be much, much worse.

http://www.dogadvisorycouncil.com/resources/comment%20on%20RSPCA%20report.pdf

Animal experiments: numbers rising while studies show low levels of production of beneficial results

Vivisection is a controversial subject - I’ve written about this several times before in my Daily Telegraph blog.

There are two news stories this week on the subject.

First, figures released by the UK government show that animal  testing in the UK has increased by almost ten per cent,  with more than four million experiments taking place a year, the highest figure since 1982. These figures have been “spun” by both sides of the debate, with the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection understandably describing them as “shocking”, while supporters of animal experimentation maintain that the overall trend of  ”experimentation” is downwards, with the apparent increase in numbers due to the recent development of genetically modified mice that have been bred to carry specific genes or to develop signs of human disease to assist progress towards cures. Whatever the truth, it’s clear that the figures deserve careful analysis before reaching sweeping conclusions: but who has time to wade through the reams of Home Office statistics?

The second news story has come in from the USA, with a “study of studies” demonstrating the poor level of return from animal experiments: only two out of 1411 animal studies on treatments for human neurological diseases came up with results that went on to produce ’convincing’ data in randomised controlled trials in humans. The researchers have called for stricter guidelines for study design and analysis to improve these statistics in the future.

Vivisection is an emotive subject – who could not be against it when faced with images of distressed laboratory animals, as shown in the Daily Mail article? (Mind you, the images are out of context with the article’s content – rabbits have not been in racks for testing like that for many years in the UK, and research on great apes is already banned in the UK).

Is animal experimentation ever justified? In a meat-eating society, how is it worse than chickens, pigs, cattle or sheep being killed for consumption? Andrew Knight has written an excellent book on the subject, well worth reading: you can buy it here.

The good news is that the trend is moving away from vivisection (see the recent banning in the EU of all cosmetic products that have been tested on animals, anywhere in the world). But there’s a long way to go.

Cruelty to animals: as important as cruelty to humans?

The so-called “Canadian cannibal porn star”, Luke Magnotta has finally been apprehended. His actions to date provide a classic case study of the reasons why society needs to make tackling animal cruelty a far higher priority. Magnotta began by torturing and killing animals, and now he’s doing the same to humans: if his attacks on animals had been dealt with effectively, he might never have become a murderer.

Cruelty to animals is important to many of us because of the simple fact that animals are sentient beings: to us, it’s a given that animals should not be allowed to suffer. Unfortunately, there are many in society who disagree: animals rank low on the scale of importance. If it came to a vote, it’s likely that “animal lovers” would be in a minority. As a result, calls for greater attention to animal welfare often go unheard: human concerns trump animal welfare issues.

This can be frustrating for those who are passionate about animal welfare, but rather than just moaning about it, perhaps we can use these facts to our best possible advantage, by seeking out reasons why the human race can benefit from improving animal welfare. The link between animal abuse and physical abuse of other humans in the same household is now well established: in a study of shelters for victims of domestic violence, more than 85 percent of those interviewed reported incidents of cruelty to animals. Nowadays, whenever vets see cases of “non-accidental injury” in pets, we know that there’s a serious risk that humans in the same household could be at risk of physical violence. In some parts of the world, vets are legally obliged to report such incidents to social services authorities.

The reason for this link is thought to be a phenomenon known as the “erosion of empathy”. Most humans feel some empathy towards animals: we have an innate sense that it’s wrong to cause them to suffer. The problem starts when individuals take that relatively small step of deliberately causing pain to an animal. Once this moral hurdle has been stepped over, it’s much easier to go on to cause pain to humans. Researchers believe that some people develop “impaired systems of empathy” which can lead to increasing levels of cruelty to both animals and humans.

Many serial killers start their murderous careers by killing animals: Jeffrey Dahmer impaled the heads of cats and dogs on sticks. The self-named Crossbow Cannibal from Bradford was reported to keep large lizards which he fed on live rodents.

And now there’s Luke Magnotta: six months ago, videos were circulated of a live kitten being fed to a snake. The Sun newspaper tracked down Magnotta as the likely culprit but could not definitively prove his involvement. Nonetheless, they informed London police of their concerns. Despite these events, Magnotta was not apprehended.

For the sake of humans, as well as for the animals themselves, isn’t it time that society started to take animal cruelty more seriously?

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