The responsible ownership of dogs and cats and the human–animal bond
Ratification Date: 25 Jul 2014
Dog and cat ownership is an integral part of the human- animal bond and plays an important and positive role in the health and wellbeing of the community1. Benefits can include companionship, health and social improvements and assistance for people with special needs.
It is essential that the physical, social and welfare requirements of the animal are considered before they are acquired, not just the needs and wants of the owners. This commitment and duty of care remains throughout the life of the animal2.
Responsible ownership involves a duty to care for the health and welfare of the animal and to consider the rest of the community and to comply with appropriate legislation3. Registration and permanent identification of all dogs and cats should be compulsory, but can only be effective if there is vigorous enforcement by local government authorities. Comprehensive and harmonised companion animal legislation between states and territories is desirable.
The human–animal bond needs to be strengthened so that people can obtain the maximum enjoyment, amenity and health benefits from their animals with full consideration of the animal’s welfare and the needs of the wider community.
In Australia, individuals and society as a whole derive many benefits from interacting with animals as companions, and uniform legislation should be promoted for example to permit pets in flats, pets on public transport and pets in restaurants. However, the number of companion animals greatly exceeds the number of responsible people prepared to offer them suitable homes. Stray and irresponsibly owned animals can create serious problems for the community.
Problems associated with irresponsible ownership include:
- public nuisance (noise nuisance, fouling the environment)
- attacks by dogs on people, other pets and livestock
- environmental damage (property and habitat damage, predation of native fauna)
- zoonotic disease
- accidents (unrestrained animals may become traffic hazards)
- financial costs to the community associated with unwanted, lost or stray animals
- Selection of a dog or cat by prospective owners should be dependent upon the owner’s ability to meet that animal’s specific management requirements, i.e. food, shelter, social requirements and environmental enrichment. If this is not possible, they should consider an alternative companion animal.
- All dogs and cats should be permanently identified before sale.
- Dogs in particular, but also cats bred to be companions, are social animals and require social interaction. This should be with their owners – the presence of other animals is in addition to this, not a substitute.
- Owners should liaise with their veterinarian to select an appropriate diet and preventative health care.
- Owners should supply appropriate enrichment to the species, breed and age. This should include a range of activities and experiences.
- All dogs and cats require training appropriate to their species, breed and age. The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) supports positive reinforcement techniques to assist owners in achieving their training goals. The AVA does not support the use of painful devices for training.
- Owners should ensure that their dog or cat is safely contained.
- Dogs and cats should be managed such that they do not cause nuisance to the community.
Education, supported by vigorously enforced legislation, is the most important means to encourage responsible ownership. There must be long-term commitment to community education, the main target groups being late primary and early secondary school students, as well as animal interest groups and the media.
Veterinary participation is required at all levels in the development and delivery of community education programs. These programs may include units in the school curriculum, practitioner visits to schools, seminars, and public events such as National Pet Week. Educational material should be available at the point of sale of pets, at council offices, pet shops and veterinary surgeries. As members of the community become more aware of the extent of the problems, they may be more prepared to accept changes that encourage responsible pet ownership.
States and territories should develop comprehensive companion animal Acts so that all aspects of the problem can be dealt with under one uniform law. Any legislation must be vigorously enforced by local government. It is important that the community and veterinarians take control of issues regarding responsible pet ownership and develop strategies for dealing with them through local government.
- Foote, D. The human animal bond. Proceedings of the Australian Veterinary Association Conference- Practice management stream, 2006.
- Koks, K. Preserving the human-animal bond- from welcome to goodbye. Proceedings of the Australian Veterinary Association Conferences. Proceedings of the 3rd AVA/ NZVA Pan Pacific Veterinary Conference, June 2010.
- Lue, T.W., Pantenbury, D.P. & Crawford, P.M. Impact of the owner-pet and client-veterinarian bond on the care pets receive. J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc., 2008 Feb. 15;232 (4): 531-40.
Other relevant policies and position statements
Ratified by the AVA Board: 25 July 2014