Manager of Communications & Public Relations,
Canadian Veterinary Medical Association
Giving your pet a happy, fulfilling life starts with providing them with fundamental elements known as the Five Animal Freedoms.
Animals are sentient beings and deserve to be treated with the same respect and care as any other family member. Owning a pet is a privilege and should result in a mutually beneficial relationship — however, the benefits of pet ownership come with responsibilities. It’s important to select a pet that’s suited to your home and lifestyle and avoid impulsive adoptions. Pet ownership also requires an investment of time and money. Keep only the type and number of pets for which you can provide an appropriate and safe environment. And remember to include your pets in your emergency and disaster planning.
Most pets can live happy, fulfilling lives when provided with fundamental elements known as the Five Animal Freedoms.
We’re becoming more acutely aware as a society that it’s our responsibility as guardians to provide the animals in our care with the necessities they require to live healthy and happy lives. It’s our duty to fulfill each of the Five Animal Freedoms and to provide pets and other animals in our care with these elements, which not only allow them to survive but thrive. It’s important that we instill this sense of responsibility in our clients as well.”
“We’re becoming more acutely aware as a society that it’s our responsibility as guardians to provide the animals in our care with the necessities they require to live healthy and happy lives,” says Dr. Chris Bell, Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) President. “It’s our duty to fulfill each of the Five Animal Freedoms and to provide pets and other animals in our care with these elements, which not only allow them to survive but thrive. It’s important that we instill this sense of responsibility in our clients as well.”
The Five Animal Freedoms
Just as with humans, an important determinant of health for animals is nutrition. It’s an owner’s responsibility to safeguard their pet’s freedom from hunger and thirst by providing ready access to fresh water and a diet that will maintain full health and vigour. An appropriate diet depends on the species, breed, age, and other considerations such as health status and level of activity. You should consult with a veterinarian to determine what type of food is best for your pet, as well as how much and how often they should be fed. It’s equally important to ensure that your pets aren’t overfed. It’s estimated that between 50 to 60 per cent of pets in Canada are obese. Overweight pets can face a series of health problems. Note that treats should be included in the total number of daily calories recommended for your pet.
Proper socialization is a key component of many pets’ growth. Animals in your care should have the freedom to spend time with or away from members of their species as appropriate. For example, puppies should be socialized with people and other dogs from a young age, provided they’ve received the appropriate immunizations, to avoid possible fearful or aggressive behaviour at a later stage. Pets should not be forced to spend time with other animals they’re not compatible with. They must also be allowed time to retreat to private spaces if desired. It’s your responsibility to provide socialization and appropriate training for your pet to facilitate their well-being and the well-being of other animals and people.
Pet owners must ensure freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment, including shelter and a comfortable resting area. Appropriate shelter varies from species to species. For example, dogs shouldn’t spend their lives tethered outside and cats should never be left to roam their neighbourhoods. Both species should have access to warm, clean homes. Pets such as rodents and reptiles should have adequate caging with appropriate temperatures and access to intellectual stimulants. Animals that spend extended periods of time outside require habitats that protect their health, safety, and welfare. Outdoor confinement of an animal should include provisions to minimize distress or discomfort to the animal and access to appropriate food, water, and shelter from extreme weather conditions. Your veterinary team can help inform you about the appropriate habitat for your pet.
One of the primary responsibilities of pet ownership is ensuring that your animal receives appropriate veterinary care by establishing and maintaining a veterinarian-client-patient relationship. You must ensure your pet’s freedom from pain, injury, or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment. It’s important for your pets to receive annual checkups and some will require more frequent visits as they grow older or develop disease. Regular veterinary visits will help your veterinary team diagnose many health issues before they become severe. Annual visits also allow your veterinary team to prescribe appropriate vaccinations and parasite prevention depending on your pet’s species, their level of activity, and the area you live in or frequent. Helping manage overpopulation by controlling your pet’s reproduction through spaying/neutering is also essential.
You must also commit to lifelong care of your pets — committing to the relationship for your pet’s entire life. This includes making arrangements for the care of your pet when or if you’re unable to do so. You must also recognize declines in your pet’s quality of life and make decisions in consultation with your veterinarian regarding appropriate end-of-life care (such as palliative care, hospice care, or euthanasia). It’s also important to consider extreme breeding when choosing a pet. Extreme breeding can lead to unintended negative consequences that could affect the health and welfare of offspring. Extreme features can result in serious health conditions and in some cases, animals may not be able to effectively breathe, groom, walk, see, or hear properly. Invasive surgeries may be required to correct some of these issues. The CVMA is currently working with members, various external stakeholders, and national and international committees to address the serious health issues resulting from the breeding of animals with extreme conformations, such as seen in some brachycephalic animals.
You must also allow your pet freedom to express normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities, and tools or accessories and by not punishing animals for carrying out undesired behaviours. For example, puppies and dogs have a normal desire to chew. You can help meet this need and protect your belongings by providing your dog with veterinarian-recommended chew toys. Similarly, it’s normal for a cat to want to scratch. Provide your feline with adequate scratching posts and redirect them to the posts when they scratch undesired areas. Do not declaw your cat. The CVMA strongly opposes the elective and non-therapeutic partial digital amputation, commonly known as declawing or onychectomy, of domestic cats. This painful practice is banned in many Canadian provinces, as well as many European countries.
The veterinary workforce shortage
The veterinary profession is facing a severe workforce shortage, which has been exasperated by the ongoing pandemic. While the veterinary industry, the five Canadian veterinary colleges, the provincial veterinary medical associations, and the CVMA are working diligently to address this issue, it won’t be resolved overnight. Visit the CVMA’s Veterinary Workforce Shortage webpage to read more about these efforts.
- Book in advance
This shortage means veterinary teams are often understaffed. Be sure to book annual appointments well in advance to accommodate clinics’ busy schedules, and make sure to speak to your current veterinary team to ensure they can take on additional patients before expanding your animal family. Some clinics are unable to accommodate additional clients at this time or have long waiting lists.
- Veterinary team health and wellness
Chronic and prolonged understaffing due to the workforce shortage has led to staff burnout due to long hours and the inability to take time off to recuperate. Please be kind to your veterinary team. They care about your animal’s health and will do their very best to care for them, but they may be unable to do this in the timeframe you would like due to availability constraints. Please show them the patience and kindness they show your pets.
The cost of owning a pet
The cost of owning an animal must be considered before adding a pet to your family. It’s important to budget for regular ongoing expenses such as nutritious food, leashes and collars, interactive toys, and regular veterinary visits and parasite prevention. You must also be prepared for unexpected illness or emergencies. Some animal owners opt for pet insurance or contribute to a specific pet emergency fund monthly, while others opt for a combination of both.
It’s estimated that one in three pets will go missing at some point in their life and a large per cent of animals found in shelters are lost animals. Getting those pets back home can reduce shelter crowding and free up valuable resources and kennel space for truly homeless animals. The CVMA supports the permanent identification of animals and recommends using radio-frequency identification (RFID) products (such as microchips and transponders) that conform to the International Organization for Standardization standard of technology. Read the CVMA’s Microchip Animal Identification position statement under the Policy and Outreach tab of the website. The CVMA recommends that veterinarians use RFID products that have been successfully reviewed by the National Companion Animal Coalition (NCAC) and that appear on the NCAC list of recognized products, which can be found on the NCAC website.
Visit the Public Resources section of canadianveterinarians.net for information about taking care of your pet.