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ANIMAL CONNECTION: Pet care golden standard

January 29, 2019

If you are one of our many loving adopters or pet owners, you already know that pet ownership is a big responsibility. We spend ‘nine-lives’ doing our best to give our pets the life they deserve, but have you ever wondered if what you are providing is enough? With animals unable to communicate their needs in a way we understand, it can be hard to know if we are completely satisfying our pet’s needs. Luckily, in the world of animal welfare there is a golden standard to ensure we are giving our animals a high quality of life.

Developed in 1965, the ‘Five Freedoms’ was an effort by the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council to address concerns about the way livestock was being treated. Though the welfare of livestock was the initial focus, this concept became a basis for the welfare of all animals, regardless of species. Many animal welfare organizations and shelters even adopted the Five Freedoms to asses the welfare of animals, which includes an animal’s physical and mental state.

The first of these freedoms is Freedom From Hunger and Thirst by ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain full health and vigor. A basic of animal care, pet owners know that our pets need food and water to survive, but this goes a step further. Are we giving our animals the food that “maintains full health and vigor?” Are we over- or under-feeding our animals? Are we providing clean water on a daily basis? Are we checking that their water bowl is full?

By simply talking to your veterinarian, you can get some insight into the type of food that would be best for the breed, age, weight and health of your pet. Not all animals need the same kind or amount of food, and by providing exactly what they need to fuel their bodies we can also provide them with a long and healthy life.

Next is Freedom from Discomfort by providing an appropriate environment, including shelter and a comfortable resting place. For outdoor dogs and cats, we need to make sure that our pets have a place that protects them from extreme weather conditions and predators. Though we do not suggest having a strictly “outdoor” pet, by providing a proper shelter, along with the other freedoms, we can still provide a fulfilling life.

If your pet is indoors, we still need to make sure they have a “comfortable resting place.” A bed or soft area where they can relax fulfills this need. If your pet has arthritis or another ailment that makes getting comfortable difficult, having a therapeutic bed is best.

Third, Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment. In terms of “prevention,” things like regular heartworm prevention, flea and tick medication and regular veterinary checkups would all fall under this category. For the latter, if your pet is sick or injured, take them to a veterinarian immediately.

At the SPCA Albrecht Center, we see many cases in which pet owners waited before bringing their pet in to our Veterinary Care Center for an illness or injury. Though they loved their pets, money constraints prevented these patrons from getting help sooner. Vet care can be expensive, which is why the SPCA Albrecht Center’s Veterinary Care Center provides affordable, high-quality vet care. Though we are not an emergency veterinary facility, we do provide many services at low prices: www.spcavetcare.org.

The next freedom is very important, but most times overlooked: Freedom to Express Normal Behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind. There are many interpretations to this freedom, but it is vital that pets receive enrichment and room to express their natural behaviors. For cats, provide toys that allow them to hunt and pounce, scratching posts for them to scratch and places to hide and climb. For dogs, provide interactive toys that allow mental stimulation, room to run and exercise and interactions with other dogs (unless they show aggression). If your dog or cat does not get along well with other animals, humans can provide sufficient companionship and interactions.

Last, Freedom from Fear and Distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, animals can’t communicate in a way we understand. However, they do show us through their body language when they are scared or distressed. By understanding our pet’s body language, we can better minimize the things that may be causing mental suffering. Something as simple as petting your cat past their threshold or talking too loudly around a timid dog could be preventing them from living a truly fulfilled life. Take note of your animals’ behavior throughout the day to ensure they are not living a life of distress.

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