The role of animal welfare in veterinary science education and research

It has been a while. My last blog post was in June. But rather than starting with an apology, I am going to take a page out of a friend’s book and begin with a thank you. Thank you for waiting for this blog post. Let’s start in a positive place together1.

It has been a busy second half of the year. Since June I have presented at three conferences: ISAE congress in Canada; ANZCVS Science Week in Australia; and the NZCAC conference in Auckland.

It has been busy, but fantastic! I have learnt a lot about myself and met many fun and interesting people along the way.

My PhD is progressing. I am in the final stages of data analysis and writing up. It is a little difficult to assess progress. My 3-year doctoral scholarship expires at the end of May and I aim to submit before the money runs out. But I am also allowing myself a little leeway. Stressing about deadlines is not conducive to meeting deadlines.

In the meantime, I have also been involved in animal welfare, behaviour, and ethics (AWBE) lecturing. It is my passion. I enjoy working with tertiary students. Teaching is in my blood. An academic career is the perfect fit for me because I love the combination of research and education. With this in mind, I sat down to read the book ‘How to be an academic’ by Inger Mewburn. In the first chapter she talks about writing a ‘mission statement’ for your career. This got me thinking about my own.

The areas I enjoy most are: animal welfare, behaviour, and ethics. It doesn’t feel like work when I am thrilled to teach students or to conduct research in these areas. So perhaps my mission statement is: ‘AWBE are necessary and important areas in veterinary and animal science education and research. My mission is to grow them to the point that they are integrated realities within these disciplines’. The wording needs work…

I have found my calling, and I am prepared to fight for it.

AWBE are also increasing in importance in veterinary and animal science. An academic career in these areas is not just a passion project for me, but it is also smart.

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) released comprehensive Animal Welfare guidelines at the recent world congress in Singapore. That a worldwide veterinary association recognises the need to develop a document promoting it, clearly shows how vital animal welfare is to the veterinary profession.

My main PhD supervisor describes where animal welfare fits so beautifully. She uses The Five Domains Model of animal welfare assessment to show where veterinary and animal science contribute to, and fit within, animal welfare:

Screen Shot 2018-10-20 at 5.21.38 PM.png
Credit: Associate Professor Ngaio Beausoleil

This way of structuring veterinary and animal science as subjects within animal welfare is not only intuitive, but also aligns with the veterinarian’s ‘…special duty to protect animal welfare and alleviate animal suffering’ (VCNZ) and the profession’s role as ‘experts’ in animal welfare.

It is obvious that veterinary science makes up such a large section of the Health Domain. But it also makes up significant portions of other domains, thereby contributing significantly towards Overall Animal Welfare.

However, in the traditional model of veterinary science, animal welfare science occupies just a small portion. This is still largely reflected in current veterinary education and the veterinary profession:

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Credit: Associate Professor Ngaio Beausoleil

A holistic, overarching, structure of animal welfare science makes more sense than the limited ‘subject’ view above. How can veterinarians be animal welfare experts without The Five Domains holistic view?

For example, animal nutrition could be taught in the context of animal welfare, rather than animal welfare within animal nutrition. Poor nutrition is a leading cause of animal welfare compromise in production animals, and excessive feed intakes are causing an obesity epidemic in companion animal populations.

Small animal behavioural problems are a leading cause of relinquishment and so-called ‘convenience’ euthanasia. The welfare of these animals would benefit from targeted behavioural interventions with a focus on improved welfare – for both humans and animals.

Even within the Health Domain, the ‘key’ domain for veterinarians, there are issues. As animals are living longer, largely a result of better nutrition and improved preventative health care, veterinarians are forced to deal with diseases of ‘old age’ – hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, and arthritis in older cats are just a few examples. And there are issues associated with end-of-life decisions for these older animals. How do we differentiate between age-related decline and severely compromised welfare? And at what point do we draw the line and say that euthanasia is necessary?

Some of these questions relate to judgement calls, where we need to consider veterinary ethics. Understanding how others think, question, and decide, is vital to relating to them. The caring profession of veterinary science needs to make sure it cares enough to relate to people from a wide range of backgrounds and belief systems.

A solid grounding in animal welfare science, behaviour, and ethics will assist veterinarians and animal scientists in answering these questions and more.2

So yes, AWBE is the way of the future – for the veterinary profession, and for me.

~

1Here is a good explanation of the power of saying “thank you” instead of “sorry” when you do something wrong

2because I am sure there are, as yet undiscovered, questions that will need answering in the future

 

 

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Poisonous to cats

Do you know what you can and cannot have around your pet cats?

This post will explore some common things that you should avoid having around your cats. I won’t try to list all the potential poisons out there, but I will deal with as many as I can, while also explaining WHY they are so bad for our pet cats.

Lilies – inside or around the house

My mum adores lilies and we always had them in the house growing up. They are stunning plants, but do you know how dangerous they are to your cat? ‘Day lilies’, in particular, are highly toxic to cats. They are ‘nephrotoxic’, meaning they can cause kidney failure! The whole plant is toxic: petals, stamen, leaves, and pollen. If your cat eats even a small amount of these they can quickly show signs such as: salivation, vomiting, loss of appetite, and depression. But if they are seen quickly by a veterinarian, fluid therapy directly into their veins can help.

What can you do? I would recommend not keeping lilies in or around (including outside) the house if you have cats. If you do have lilies, keep them away from your cats as much as possible! This includes the pollen. If the pollen drops onto the floor or other surfaces, your cat may pick it up on their coat and then ingest the toxic pollen when they groom themselves.

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Cats spend a lot of time grooming themselves
A hazard in the garage; antifreeze

Another common toxin that can affect a cat’s kidneys is antifreeze. Antifreeze and coolants that contain ‘ethylene glycol’ can be fatal in even the smallest amount. Cats can be exposed by drinking the toxin (it is sweet-tasting!) or by indirectly licking it from their feet if they walk through it. Dangerous areas are in and around the garage or where cars may be parked and leak antifreeze-containing coolant. The toxin causes kidney failure very quickly. Cats may be seen vomiting or acting drunk, but usually it is picked up in the later stages when they are already having urination issues. If it is caught early enough your veterinarian can treat with medical ethanol intravenously, but most times it is too late. This poisoning has a very poor prognosis.

Please keep car products away from your cats! When doing anything with your car at home hose down the area afterwards. Or better yet, do ‘car things’ somewhere your cat cannot access. If you notice your car leaking ANYTHING, get it seen to ASAP.

Human medications are not for cats

Cats lack some of the enzymes that we have to break down and use our ‘human’ medications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as paracetamol and ibuprofen are examples of these. If a cat is given these medications, their liver cannot break them down in the same way that ours can. Toxic products form instead and have disastrous effects on cats’ kidneys. Please keep these products away from cats and do not be tempted to give them when you think they are in pain. See a vet instead who will prescribe a medication designed with cats in mind.

Flea & tick products designed for dogs

Cats are also sensitive to certain products used to treat fleas and ticks in dogs. If a product is recommended for dog use ONLY please do not use it on cats – even in a smaller dose. Dog products contain a different active ingredient to those used in cat products. This ingredient is toxic to cats. It can cause neurological signs such as head tremors and even death. If you have both cats and dogs in your home and you use a flea/tick product on your dog, keep them apart to prevent accidental contact until the medication has had time to dry on the dog’s body.

Rodenticides

Rat or mouse poison is potentially life-threatening if your cat ingests it. Most cats dislike the taste (unlike dogs). However, it is best to be on the safe side and keep these poisons in areas that your cat cannot access. Similarly, keep them away from mice and rats that may eat the poison. Your cat can get ‘secondary’ poisoning by eating a rodent just after they have eaten the poison.

These poisons work by causing haemorrhages. They work against products in the body needed for blood clotting and can thereby cause death from generalised bleeding.

Cleaning products

Many of these are safe to use around pets. However, please be careful. Avoid letting your cat walk on still-wet surfaces, as they may be tempted to lick their paws and ingest the product afterwards. Also store them in a secure cabinet – cats love to rub things with their face so it is best to keep the products away from this behaviour.

Foods

Some things that we eat cannot be eaten by cats. Unlike dogs, cats are a little pickier with their food and will usually turn their nose up at foods they recognise as poisonous. But some may not have this innate ability, so it is best to keep these things away from them:

  • Onions and garlic
  • Coffee grounds and tea
  • Fatty foods
  • Chocolate
  • Avocado
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Yeast dough
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Alcohol
  • Anything containing the artificial sweetener ‘xylitol’

Onions and garlic are particularly toxic to pets and fatty foods can cause pancreatitis – a very painful condition for your pets!

This is a simplified summary of some poisons you may not have realised were dangerous to your cats. Please think twice before letting your cats near things that you aren’t sure about. Ask your veterinarian or consult a reputable website, e.g. AVMA, International Cat Care, for more information.

Rodeo in New Zealand

When I was about 7 years old and living in Whitianga (Coromandel Peninsula, North Island of New Zealand), my parents took my brother and I to the local rodeo event. It was a big day out for the (then) small town and the surrounding area. There were food stalls, craft markets, and bulls and stallions were being ridden. Teenagers could ride calves and young children could have a go at riding a ‘wild’ sheep. Rodeo events like this have been going on every year for decades. It is just what you do. The area has sheep and beef farms and rodeo is a natural accompaniment. Everyone got into the spirit of the day – fun and laughter followed. The champion stallion rider was venerated.

I rode a sheep that day. My parents (mostly mum – she is from a farming background) convinced me to give it a go. I remember it being fun. But I also remember asking my mum afterwards if she thought the sheep enjoyed it as well. That was the first and last rodeo event we attended.

Rodeo events are most popular in countries or regions with historical ties to rural agriculture. The USA is well-known for its rodeo – particularly in Southern States such as Texas, and the mid-west; ‘cowboy states’. Australia also has a penchant for rodeo.

In New Zealand, rodeo events are held up and down the country during the summer months. These events are advertised as ‘family friendly’ and an entertaining day out. Most are run by the New Zealand Rodeo Cowboys Association (NZRCA), which overseas 35 rodeos annually (Report to Accompany the code of welfare: Rodeos).

So, what is the problem?

Rodeo is unacceptable to a growing number of people. Anti-rodeo Facebook groups (e.g. Anti Rodeo Action NZ and New Zealand Anti-Rodeo Coalition) have a large number of followers. These groups host anti-rodeo demonstrations across New Zealand. Many of those who are opposed to rodeo cite animal welfare grounds – rodeo events are seen as “legalised animal cruelty” (SPCA New Zealand). It has been argued that the events at rodeos are unnecessary displays of ‘archaic’ stockperson skills. This includes: calf roping; horse and/or bull bucking; and steer wrestling.

“Is putting animals in a stressful situation like this justified? If you look at the cost benefit analysis, the benefit is sport for the participants and entertainment for a crowd. I don’t see that putting animals through this kind of fear and stress is justified by the benefits.”

(Virginia Williams, animal welfare consultant vet) [1]

Several groups publicly oppose rodeo events or aspects of them: SPCA New Zealand, the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA), Lions Clubs New Zealand, and The Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand (to name a few).

Researchers from The University of Queensland’s Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics and School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, along with those from Toulouse University, conducted a study on the effects of calf roping [2]. Their findings conclude that calf roping causes stress to the animals. However, only stress hormones and limited behavioural data were assessed. Detailed behavioural assessments may have been more informative – and potentially indicated extreme negative welfare states experienced by the calves. Interestingly, the study was funded by a rodeo body: the Australian Professional Rodeo Association (APRA).

The other side of rodeo

Other than the obvious entertainment value for people attending the events, and sporting value for the competitors, it could be argued that the animals used would not exist but for rodeo. It is also important to consider the animal’s entire life, not just the time it is performing, or entertaining. When not competing, many of these animals are lavishly fed and allowed to do as they please. If their whole life is ‘better’ in rodeo than it may otherwise be, this may change our assessment [1].

The Code of Welfare for Rodeos

The use of animals for entertainment purposes is ethically divisive. On one side are those who see it as ‘just a bit of fun’ or important to rural agriculture; on the other side are those who maintain that the use of animals for entertainment is abhorrent. Occupying the middle ground are those who support some aspects of rodeo and not others, and those whose issue is not with using animals for entertainment, but with the welfare consequences of this particular entertainment event on the animals involved.

“My contention is that at least some of the rodeo events are unreasonable and unnecessary and cause unreasonable and unnecessary pain and distress.” [1]

Suffice to say, rodeo is a contentious topic. For this reason, the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) received a large number of submissions when conducting their 10-yearly review of the Code of Welfare for Rodeos . The Code has expectations for appropriate treatment of animals used in rodeos and identifies what is inappropriate. NAWAC published a report to accompany The Code, which details the reasoning behind their recommendations and these differences of opinion. It is an interesting read and shows how truly divisive this topic is. I will summarise some of the key issues here:

  • Societal views on the use of animals in rodeos, i.e. is it ethical?
    • Limited relevance to NZ culture, e.g. outdated stockperson skills
    • Not good for NZ’s reputation as animal welfare leader and its ‘clean, green’ image
    • Calf events have been banned in a number of other countries
    • Little economic value to NZ
    • Positive role of rodeo in rural cohesion
  • Stockmanship – how do we assess animal welfare at rodeos?
    • Veterinarian should be present at rodeos – last say in all welfare decisions
    • Animal welfare officer to identify issues and work with veterinarian
  • The use of spurs on bucking animals – it is necessary?
    • Prohibition of spurs called for – their use causes pain to animals
    • Spurs provide a point of contact to remain on bucking animals – removing them would make it difficult for a contestant to remain seated
  • Specific events – calf welfare in rope and tie events
    • This event is believed to be particularly stressful
    • But in the few studies performed (at the date of report), ‘detrimental physiological damage’ was not reported
    • Not all NAWAC members could agree that the event should be discontinued – there was not enough evidence for significant pain and distress
    • The Code has ‘Recommended Best Practice’ to not use calves in rodeo events
  • Children’s events
    • Effect on children exposed to ‘disrespectful’ animal treatment – animal abuse linked to abuse of people
    • Rodeos are family-orientated – children involved as part of family unit
    • Sheep disallowed for this purpose – too small to handle being ridden
  • Health, injury, and disease – should fireworks be used?
    • Add interest to the event
    • Unexpected noise and movement causes fight or flight response in horses and cattle
    • Fireworks, pyrotechnics and gas fired explosions not to be used at rodeos

The Code itself is a longer read (28 pages). It also references the NZ Rodeo Association on page 7:

“The New Zealand Rodeo Association holds a number of training days for new contestants and for those wishing to learn more about rodeo events.”

This makes the reader nervous about the potential for bias and collusion. A legal document has a responsibility to be impartial and exclude vested interests. The Code is seen by some “as a shield to protect a defendant in the face of prosecution”. It may well be less than 10 years before it is updated to reflect ethical concerns.

In summary

Society’s expectations of animal welfare standards are constantly evolving – practices that were once acceptable no longer are or may become unacceptable in the future. Therefore, it is vital that we continue to discuss and debate these issues and respond to public concerns.

References
  1. Flagler, B., Blazing saddles, in VetScript. 2016.
  2. Sinclair, M., et al., Behavioral and Physiological Responses of Calves to Marshalling and Roping in a Simulated Rodeo Event. Animals, 2016. 6(5).

The problem of brachycephalic dogs in New Zealand: Why has Trade Me banned some of them?

As of the 1 March 2018 ‘Trade Me’ New Zealand, our biggest online trading website, will no longer allow three brachycephalic dog breeds to be sold through their platform: Pugs, French Bulldogs, and British Bulldogs. This is a huge win for the welfare of these animals.

What are brachycephalic dogs?

The word brachycephalic literally breaks down to ‘short’ ‘head’. It refers to animals (it’s not just a dog problem!) with short faces/snouts. The classic example is the Pug – with its squishy face and big eyes. The Persian cat is another example. The muzzle, or snout, of these animals has essentially been reduced in length over time via breeding. It has become a desirable characteristic.

post 15 pug
The Pug is a good example of a brachycephalic dog breed

For many people, the attraction of these dogs is in their resemblance to babies or children. A small, round face makes them ‘cute’ and ‘adorable’. This factor is becoming even more important as many people are choosing not to have children, or delaying until later in life. Instead, their pet may play the role of this family member in their life.

What is wrong with these dogs?

The problem with breeding to reduce the length of these dog’s snouts/muzzles is what has happened as a result [1]. The bony structures of the head have reduced in size, but in most cases the soft tissue in the back of the mouth and throat has remained the same. This means these dogs have to breathe around this extra tissue. Other things have happened as a result of the bony changes:

  • The size of their nostrils is reduced – they are tiny! Many of these dogs’ struggle to get enough air through their nose and so resort to ‘open mouth’ breathing;
  • Their trachea, or airway, is too small for them. It is also very weak. They really have to work hard to get air into their lungs – sometimes they work TOO hard and their airway collapses. This is an emergency situation!

Overall, their breathing could be likened to trying to suck air through a thin drinking straw that has cloth over one end. Most of these dogs have to breathe with their mouth open, and snorts or snoring sounds result from the extra soft tissue in their mouth flopping into their airway.

This snoring sound may seem ‘cute’ to many people, but it actually means the dog is struggling to breathe properly! Their small airway and all that soft tissue in their mouth is making it very difficult for them.

These dogs get very hot in Summer and can often over-heat to the point of suffering from heat stroke – another emergency situation. Dogs in general cannot sweat as well as people. This means they rely on open-mouth breathing to cool them down. If a dog is not able to breathe very well, as is the case in these ‘brachy’ dogs, then this can be a problem. And again, if they work too hard breathing, their weak airways can collapse!

Other issues with these dogs include: their eyes bulge out of their skull resulting in dry eyes and sometimes ulcers; skin conditions and/or infections due to excess facial skin – all those rolls and folds are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria; and often these dogs struggle to give birth as puppies’ heads are too big for their mothers’ pelvic bones to pass through. Most British Bulldogs are delivered via caesarean section with the help of a veterinarian.

How has it got to this point?

Because so many people want these dogs, there are a lot of people breeding them. It is big business! One puppy can fetch thousands of dollars. But because dog breeding is unregulated in New Zealand, there are no rules about who can do it and how. As a result, people have kept breeding for what people want – short ‘cute’ snouts. Supply equals demand. The problem has got worse.

Not only this, but oftentimes breeding animals (the parents) are kept in poor conditions and become ‘breeding machines’. There are obviously exceptions to the rule, and voluntary members of organisations, such as Dogs NZ (formerly the New Zealand Kennel Club) are bound by self-imposed breeding regulations. However, many ‘backyard’ breeders of these dogs are less conscientious.

What can we do?

This move by Trade Me to stop these three breeds being sold on their platform has been celebrated by many animal welfare organisations and veterinarians. By stopping a major avenue for the sale of ‘backyard’ bred dogs, there is hope yet! This will stop unwitting puppy buyers from purchasing their pet ‘sight unseen’. Often these puppies are sent to them, or they collect them from a mutual meeting place, so that the breeding area and parents are not seen. These buyers have no idea what conditions the parents are in (what their purchase is supporting), or what the parents are like (a good indication of what their puppy may be like).

However, as the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) has proposed, there are still things that can be done. Their webpage has a list of additional information and their companion animal spokesperson, Rochelle Ferguson, has written a Spinoff feature with advice. To summarise, before adopting prospective owners should:

  • Consider adopting a dog from a shelter, rather than buying one that may be supporting poor breeding practise;
  • Visit the breeder and meet the parents of the puppy they are considering adopting;
  • Support breeders who screen for inherited diseases and who don’t breed puppies with these extreme features;
  • Ask about the mother’s health and whether a caesarean was needed;
  • Consider whether the mother’s (and other dogs) behavioural needs are being met by the breeder. This all affects the puppy.

In the future:

  • Regulations that require people to have a license to breed and sell puppies would be beneficial;
  • Sales on premises (and not ‘sight unseen’ or online) could be a requirement.

I will conclude by quoting Rochelle’s message:

“The fallout from puppies that have been irresponsibly bred is shouldered, not by the breeders who profit from their sale, but by the families that purchase these animals and the veterinarians that treat them.”

References
  1. Packer, R.M.A., et al., Impact of Facial Conformation on Canine Health: Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome. Plos One, 2015. 10(10).

 

Understanding New Zealand animal welfare legislation: The Animal Welfare Act, Codes of Welfare, and new Regulations

Ngā mihi o te tau hou / Happy New Year! (in te Reo Māori)

This is a post I have been meaning to write for some time. I finally have a moment to sit and reflect on the new(ish) New Zealand Animal Welfare Regulations.

These regulations were proposed in 2015 and many were introduced in 2016 and 2017 – with more to follow in 2018. They are specific to certain species or types of animal, or refer to particular ways we manage animals, e.g. transport regulations.

Background to New Zealand animal welfare legislation

I should probably put some context around these regulations – why do we need them? We already have The Animal Welfare Act 1999 and Codes of Welfare in New Zealand. The Animal Welfare Act is a piece of legislation, whereas the Codes of Welfare are not – this means they are not enforceable as such. I will explain further.

I like to think of The Animal Welfare Act as working to reduce the extreme negative end of the spectrum of animal welfare states. It talks about ‘obligations’, ‘liability’, and that we should ‘attend properly’ to animals, etc. It is a really useful document to refer to when people have done really bad things to or with animals – when there is pain and suffering involved. The Codes of Welfare are at the other end of the spectrum and are ‘Best Practice’ documents. They expand on The Animal Welfare Act by setting minimum standards and recommending guidelines for best practice. They are also more specific. Where The Animal Welfare Act talks about animals in general, The Codes are broken down into specific animals and/or interventions, or things we may do to animals. Examples of Codes include: circuses, dairy cattle, dogs, horses and donkeys, and painful husbandry procedures.

The gap for animal welfare regulations

As we can see, The Act and Codes of Welfare are at the extreme ends of the spectrum. And although Codes do specify minimum standards for animal care, they tend to be used when rebutting complaints, and not as a means of prosecution or enforcement. If an animal cruelty complaint is laid against a person in charge of an animal, then proof of adherence to these minimum standards can be used as a rebuttal of this complaint. In effect, if the basics are provided for an animal, it is hard for anyone to say anything different. In addition, the process of bringing animal carers to prosecution can be difficult and expensive. This, again, only results in extremely bad cases being prosecuted.

This is where The Regulations come in. They essentially use the minimum standards already in place (with minor adjustments) to allow for better enforcement of The Act. To do this they clarify the rules already in place to protect animal welfare. In essence, they specify that if you do this, you will be punished with that. There is less ambiguity surrounding what is required of those caring for, or who are responsible for, animals. The regulations are meant to be an additional tool for animal welfare inspectors, and in most cases do not require evidence of pain and suffering.

What regulations will we have in New Zealand animal welfare law?

In early 2016, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) sought feedback on 91 animal welfare regulations they had proposed. The broad categories for these regulations were: live animal exports; care of, and conduct towards, animals; and surgical and painful procedures. MPI travelled around the country with ‘roadshows’ publicising the regulations. Attendance was widely encouraged and there was a chance for feedback to be given and questions answered. Official written submissions to MPI totalled 1,400.

It was interesting to attend one of these ‘roadshows’ at Massey University in Palmerston North. There were many interested parties with varied views (for/against) the proposed regulations. A particularly heated discussion was had about the ‘dog tail docking’ regulation. It was clearly of high interest to dog breeders and owners. A short history of tail docking in New Zealand is given in this excellent post. Due to the issues proposed, MPI commissioned an independent review of the science and arguments for and against tail docking. The full report is available here. Essentially, the findings suggest that tail docking of dogs is a surgical procedure of major significance – with the potential to cause considerable pain and distress. The costs outweigh any potential benefits making it an unjustifiable act. A policy was approved in July 2017 to restrict tail docking of dogs. The restrictions mean that it can only be performed by a registered veterinarian, using analgesia, for therapeutic purposes, i.e. in response to a significant injury or disease. Therefore, dogs whose tails are damaged in some way may still have them docked – if a veterinarian believes this is the best therapy. Final approval to create the regulation is still pending at the time of writing.

Other regulations are already in place – particularly those relating to bobby (usually young male) calves and the export of live animals. Four regulations covering the welfare of calves were in place for the spring calving season in 2016 and a further three for 2017 calving, while those covering the export of live animals were confirmed in July 2016.

Examples of important regulations include: the mandatory use of pain relief for disbudding cattle, standards for the transportation of lame animals, that calves must be 4 days of age before being transported off farm, a maximum 12-hour journey time for young calves, young calves being prohibited from being sent cross the Cook Strait by sea (i.e. from North to South Island and vice versa), and the prohibition of killing calves by blunt force trauma to the head – other than in an emergency.

The future for animal welfare regulations

A number of regulations will be progressed in 2018. These broadly relate to: tail docking/castration (horses, sheep, llama and alpaca, and roosters), other surgical procedures in production animals and companion animals (e.g. hot branding, velvetting, cropping of ears in dogs, and Caslick’s procedures in horses), and dentistry.

Of particular interest to veterinarians, the stock transport regulation relating to lame animal’s says that “A person in charge of a lame cattle beast, sheep, deer, pig or goat commits an offence if they permit the animal to be transported”. In contrast to current practice, liability has been placed on suppliers presenting lame animals for transport, rather than transporters. Veterinarians may therefore find themselves being called upon for additional certification of lame animals for transport.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, the Animal Welfare Regulations are promising, and although some did not make the final cut (mostly due to issues with wording and meaning), there are plenty of good regulations being progressed that will improve the welfare of animals in New Zealand.

Beyond the regulations, there is still scope for further reforms in animal welfare legislation. In an earlier post, I wrote about the excellent work Dr Rebecca Ledger is doing using the Five Domains Model for forensic animal behaviour analysis in Canada. This is something we could really embrace in New Zealand. In addition, using animal abuse cases to create ‘links’ to domestic violence could lead to improvements in both animal and human welfare. The Veterinary Council of New Zealand has a guidance document relating to this here.

We still have much to do, but this is a great start!

 

The New Zealand National Cat Management Strategy Draft

This post has been a long time coming. I had been holding out for a resolution to the New Zealand National Cat Management Strategy proposal that was released in draft form in September 2016. However, a recent article in The Dominion Post hints that Wellington is going ahead without The Strategy, as the capital city looks towards new rules for the management of cats (and other animals). This follows on from the bylaw Wellington introduced last year, implemented early 2018, which mandates that all domestic cats over 12 weeks of age be microchipped and that all such microchips be registered with the NZ Companion Animal Register (NZCAR).

Maybe I should back up a little here. What is going on in New Zealand with our domestic cats? It has long been recognised that cats on islands, such as New Zealand, cause problems by predating upon wildlife [1] – and there is particular concern for native and endangered species. New Zealand has many beautiful native bird species, most of which have evolved without the need to protect themselves from predators such as cats (who were introduced later by humans). This puts them at risk of declining numbers and potential extinction. Several ‘predator-free’ (predators also include: stoats, rats, and possums) islands and land-based reserves have been established in New Zealand, in order to provide a protected environment for native species. However, there is still a need to protect the wildlife not within the confines of these sheltered areas, and to provide future-proof environments. There is a plan to make New Zealand predator-free (of possums, rats, and stoats) by the year 2050. However, this plan does not extend to cats.

Some large cities (e.g. Wellington – our capital city) are near several of these protected areas, and native bird habitats often extend outside their sheltered zone. This, in addition to wildlife already resident in the capital, has been causing problems with owned domestic (and often feral) cats. Cats are skilled hunters [1], and unfortunately their hunting zones may overlap with native bird habitats. A call to ban domestic cats in New Zealand did not go down particularly well with cat owners. New Zealand is unique, in that unlike many other countries that favour dogs, cats are our most popular companion animal pet [2]. And cat owners can be very protective of their right to own a feline friend. This provides for an interesting clash between wildlife advocates and domestic cat owners.

There is an obvious need for compromise and so representatives from various interest groups sat down together and drafted the NZ National Cat Management Strategy. The Strategy’s working group is made up of members from: The New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA); NZVA Companion Animal Veterinarians (CAV); New Zealand Companion Animal Council (NZCAC); Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RNZSPCA); Morgan Foundation; and Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ). The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the Department of Conservation (DOC) are technical advisory members. “The key principles of the strategy are the promotion of responsible cat ownership, humane cat management, and environmental protection.” (The Strategy pg7). The Strategy makes a point of recognising the positive benefits and value in cat ownership, but also acknowledges the impact cats have on native species. This gives credit to both sides of the argument for (e.g. ‘Feline Rights New Zealand’) and against (e.g. Gareth Morgan and The Morgan Foundation) cats in New Zealand.

A summary of The Strategy is available here. Briefly, the 17 key recommendations agreed by the group relate to: (1) the recognition that cats are sentient animals; (2) a focus on non-lethal control methods; (3) the identification of different cat populations (owned, feral, stray, etc.); (4) management programmes targeted specifically at stray cats; (5) targeted trap-neuter-return programmes for stray cats; (6) communication and collaboration with all stakeholders; (7) addressing inconsistencies in legislation; (8) implementing a national cat management task force; (9) A National Cat Management Act that allows for the creation and implementation of cat bylaws; (10) incremental changes to legislation; (11) cat management advisory groups for local governments; (12) evaluation of cat management strategies; (13) the reporting of these evaluations; (14) a centralised national database of cat management statistics; (15) an integrated approach to cat management; (16) those implementing cat management strategies understand the animal welfare implications and best practice for the techniques; and (17) identifying areas of high conservation value and implementing strict controls for these areas. According to the RNZSPCA, The Strategy was due to be presented to Government before the end of last year. It will be interesting to see what eventuates.

Blog post 7 image
A native New Zealand Tui enjoys the spring flowers at Massey University, Palmerston North

What will the future of cat ownership in New Zealand look like? And what are some things we could be doing now to help? Keeping cats indoors at night is likely to reduce some of their predation habits. The use of anti-predation cat collar covers may also be beneficial [3]. Having your cat(s) microchipped now could also be a good idea. Microchipping is the recommended best practice method for identification of cats in the New Zealand Companion Cats Code of Welfare, and is preferred to collar use. Desexing cats is another key owner responsibility. Chatting to (as opposed to criticising) cat owners about the harmful effects of cats on our wildlife, and giving them a few things they can try now to combat these effects, will go a long way to help New Zealand resolve this issue. Words written by a cat lover.

“There will always be cats in New Zealand and the only viable route to effective cat management is to implement facilitating legislation and simultaneously work with the stakeholders involved with all cat populations to find agreed solutions that are acceptable and have a realistic chance of reducing cat numbers and mitigating cats’ negative impact on wildlife.” (The New Zealand National Cat Management Strategy Draft 2016)

Here is a short YouTube video about the New Zealand National Cat Management Strategy.

References

  1. Medina, F.M., et al., A global review of the impacts of invasive cats on island endangered vertebrates. Global Change Biology, 2011. 17(11): p. 3503-3510.
  2. New Zealand Companion Animal Council Inc., Companion Animals in New Zealand. 2016: Auckland, New Zealand.
  3. Willson, S.K., I.A. Okunlola, and J.A. Novak, Birds be safe: Can a novel cat collar reduce avian mortality by domestic cats (Felis catus)? Global ecology and conservation, 2015. 3: p. 359-366.

 

Edit (30th April 2017):

As a result of an email taking issue with my recommendation of anti-predation cat collars and their safety to cats, I would like to clarify the type of collar I suggest.

I recommend those that fit over the cat’s current (quick release or breakaway) collar and are open at one end – so that both collars release if the cat gets caught. An example of them can be found here: https://www.birdsbesafe.com/ and can be made yourself with instructions found here:

While I was away…

As I have been on holiday (and a little bit MIA while preparing for my PhD Confirmation), I thought I would write a post on what I have missed. I am still playing catch-up, so this is not exhaustive, but these are a few matters of interest that have come up while I have been away:

AVA Conference 2017

The program for the 2017 AVA Conference in Melbourne came out just before I left. It has a great line-up of animal welfare talks. I am disappointed that I will not be able to make it this year, but I will be at the ANZCVS Science Week instead – I hope to see you there.

UFAW International Symposium 2017

The line-up for the UFAW 2017 Symposium looks fantastic too! The theme is ‘Measuring animal welfare and applying scientific advances – Why is it still so difficult?’. This is something very close to my heart and another one I wish I could attend. But unfortunately, the PhD calls. I will begin interviews for my second study this year.

OIE vacancy for specialist in Animal Welfare

Earlier in the month the OIE listed this amazing job opportunity in Animal Welfare based in Brussels, Belgium. The closing date is the 3rd of March 2017. If only I was ready for this great opportunity…

Cats to keep their claws in NJ?

New Jersey could be one of the first states in the USA to restrict declawing of cats to only those deemed necessary by a veterinarian. This could pave the way to restrictions throughout the entire USA. In New Zealand, “The declawing of cats to alleviate social or behavioural problems should be contemplated only when retraining has proved ineffective and euthanasia is the only alternative” (Code of Welfare 2007 – Companion cats). This stance will not be changing with the new Animal Welfare regulations in New Zealand. Cats have claws and removing them simply because they lead to traits that we regard as ‘undesirable’ bears a strong resemblance to ear cropping and tail docking in dogs.

On the subject of cats

Because ‘cat welfare matters’, this next story is about ‘designer cats’. Dogs have had plenty of attention recently as we have heard about the issues associated with brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds. But it’s not just dogs whose welfare is negatively affected by breed standards. Our feline friends have problems too! International Cat Care has written a great article that tells us the truth about ‘designer cats’. A cat with short legs? How adorable! Not so for the cat…check out their radiographs. And brachycephalic cats have problems too. We need to breed for function, not form. “…many (if not all) of these cats are likely to suffer pain and/or compromised welfare.”

Women in Science

A little off topic, but our welfare is important too! This last one begins with a conversation I overheard while on holiday. I was waiting to order my brunch at a café and overheard three women behind me. Their topic for discussion? Which of their friends had ‘got the fattest’ after high school. Wouldn’t it have been nice if I had overheard them discussing which friend had done great things with her life? Who had a fantastic career? Who was doing ‘well’? Now don’t get me wrong, I am not one to talk. I have joined in similar discussions in my time. But what good is this doing us? This lead me to think about how women undersell ourselves and each other and how this could affect our success. The 11th of February was International Day of Women and Girls in Science and I pretty well missed it. We need to support women in science to achieve great things. I love hearing about what women are accomplishing every day. My main PhD supervisor is a fantastic scientist. She has, and will continue to, achieved great things. Let’s celebrate a little better next year so that we can support women to achieve even more – for science and animal welfare! Mark it in your calendar.