Keeping up to Date: the Science of Animal Welfare, the Politics

COAPE keeps constantly abreast of current thinking in animal welfare and changes in animal protection law and how this affects pets and their owners, and those involved professionally with companion animals. Read OUR BLOGS for the latest updates


Animal welfare code of practice

An updated 'code of practice' for cats, dogs and horses that offers practical advice on pet ownership was announced by DEFRA in December 2008. The codes, published on the DEFRA website and in leaflets, will help pet owners’ better understand their duties under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.


A spokesperson said: ‘The Animal Welfare Act 2006 has been the most important piece of animal legislation for nearly a century’. These three new codes of practice will outline the responsibilities of owners under the Act and give practical advice on how to fulfil them including how to create a suitable environment for a pet to live in, provide a healthy diet, spot signs of stress and protect a pet from pain, suffering, injury and disease. Pet owners will also be able to use the codes to find external sources of information on looking after cats, dogs or horses. This means no-one will be able to claim ignorance as an excuse for mistreating any animal.


The main purpose of the codes is to provide practical guidance on pet owners’ responsibilities under the Animal Welfare Act. If a person fails to comply with a code of practice, they will not be liable to proceedings of any kind, but failure to comply with several provisions may be used in evidence to support a prosecution for cruelty to animals. Under the Act, anyone convicted of cruelty to an animal could face a prison sentence or a fine of up to £20,000.


Animal Welfare Law

Not only is it still against the law to be cruel to an animal of course, but owners must now also ensure that all their animals’ welfare needs are met.

See for further details.


These include the need:

  • for a suitable environment (place to live)
  • for a suitable diet
  • to be housed with or apart from other animals (if applicable)
  • to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease and, crucially from COAPE’s standpoint,
  • to exhibit normal behaviour patterns

The question is…how does an owner who loves and cares for their pet assess ‘normal behaviour patterns’? How can you make sure that you not only comply with the new law, but also that you do indeed care for your pet to very best of your ability though understanding its emotional, behavioural and physical needs.


The British Veterinary Association Animal Welfare Foundation (BVAAWF) has published a leaflet titled ‘What Makes my Pet Happy? (PDF)’ that offers help and advice in this area. But interestingly, this is controversial for many behaviourists and behavioural scientists, who do not always agree that animals have emotions at all!


Not so at COAPE. COAPE’s ethos and our education courses start with the fundamental premise that the success of all mammals (and birds as well) is absolutely dependent on their emotional sensitivity. The intrinsic association of how they feel and how they learn, or how they form social relationships with their own kind and with us, is in the very nature of animals, even though assessing exactly how happy, sad, anxious, fearful, frustrated, angry etc they feel at any point in time can be a difficult task.


The new animal welfare law however, now demands that all owners make that assessment and the BVAAWF leaflet is based on the very premise that your pets need to be happy.


The BVAAWF leaflet details 5 Freedoms to which pets are entitled in order to be happy:




The Five Freedoms make sure that you think of all the things that can affect how animals feel. For example, it’s not good to be well fed but in pain, nor to feel safe but too cold. Four of the five freedoms are easy to understand, but what is meant exactly by the ‘freedom to express normal behaviour’?


Well, if you spent your entire life without a chance to meet or speak to anybody, you could not be described as ‘happy’ even though you might live a long life?


So ‘freedom to express normal behaviour’ means ‘able to meet behavioural needs’.

Some types of behaviour are so important to animals that if they can’t perform them, they will suffer emotionally and maybe even physically as well. These behaviours are called ‘behavioural needs’.


Exactly which behaviours are important depends on the species of the animal of course. Cats have different behavioural needs compared to those of dogs, or rabbits, or budgerigars, for example.