Balancing the benefits of pets in society with sustainable, responsible pet ownership and care is a responsibility, not only of pet owners, but of a variety of stakeholders such as veterinarians, pet food producers, governments and educators.
Different roles of dogs and cats
Dogs and cats play many useful roles in 21st century society. Cats, for example, are kept both as pets and for their fabled pest control ability.
When we consider dogs, we find their roles in society are more extensive, including:
- Working animals such as farm dogs, rescue service dogs, sniffer dogs, security dogs.
- Companions and ‘assistance’ dogs, for example guide dogs for the blind and medical alert dogs.
In addition, dogs and cats also bring health benefits to pet owners like stress reduction, combating obesity and reducing blood pressure. Pet ownership also teaches children how to care for others. On this basis, there is a strong case for society to demonstrate responsible pet ownership and duty of care towards our pets. Failure means that we do not benefit fully from pet ownership and that pet ownership is not sustainable in the long term. However, meeting these responsibilities requires input from a combination of stakeholders.
Dog poop – a 21st century problem
I recently tried to attend an amateur rugby union match in the beautiful English countryside with my daughter and her 2-year old rescue French Bulldog. Unfortunately, we were prevented from entering the sports ground. Although unpleasant, the reason was both simple and complex, the problem of dog poop. In denying us entry, the sports club was showing responsibility towards their members and public resulting from some irresponsible dog owners’ failure to ‘scoop the poop’ and clean up after their dogs. It is well known that dog faeces are a vector of pathogenic bacteria and parasites and failure to ‘scoop the poop’ increases the risk of transfering pathogens from dogs to humans.
Globally the dog poop problem is significant, with recent surveys indicating that major global cities generate up to 250 tonnes of dog faeces a day. However, effective control is complex. Not only should pet owners clear up after their dogs but they require support from diverse stakeholders.
The role of the pet food industry includes:
- Designing and making dog food that promotes gut health and produces acceptable stool quality.
- Digestibility testing to ensure efficient use of rawmaterials.
- Ensuring raw material sustainability through responsible sourcing, to ensure long term use of beneficial raw materials in products.
The importance of raw material testing and sustainability will be featured in the november and decmber issues.
Other key stakeholders in effective dog faeces control include, veterinarians for their role in ensuring gut health, pet retailers/pet industry associations for educating pet owners and governmental authorities for provision of faeces disposal facilities like dedicated waste bins or converting dog poop into biogas.
Ensuring long-term benefits of pets in society
Responsible pet care requires more than faeces control alone. Apart from foraging for food,
which might not be safe to eat, a pet can not care for itself when it comes to health and wellbeing. Fundamentally, pets can’t effectively control dental health, trim their nails or ensure they remain parasite free, so pet owners must take responsibility for these tasks.
Ensuring the benefits of pets in society are sustainable in the long term, requires that we ensure the healthy longevity of our pets. There are many aspects to this and our understanding of pet health is constantly evolving.
In ensuring healthy longevity many other stakeholders across the pet sector are involved, including:
- Veterinarians who promote and provide pet healthservices.
- Pet retailers/pet industry associations role who promote healthy nutrition.
- Pet food manufacturers who design and manufacture safe food that promotes healthy longevity and communicate ‘Best Practice’ pet food storage, to minimise the risk of illness in pets and humans.
- Pet owners who ensure responsible feeding to control the growing problem of pet obesity.
Feral and free-ranging dogs and cats
Sustainable pet ownership is under threat from feral and free-ranging dogs and cats. Published estimates indicate a ‘feral’ global population of more than 200 million dogs and over a 100 million cats. Controlling this population is important for ensuring healthy pets and humans in society. Responsible population management techniques include education, sterilisation and the more controversial use of euthanasia. Here the major aim is to control zoonotic disease transmission, including parasitic, viral and bacterial diseases, between feral and domestic cat and dog populations and from ‘ferals’ to humans.
The importance of education
The role of education in promoting responsible pet care should not be underestimated. Many governmental and non-governmental agencies,
pet industry associations, charities and veterinary organisations such as ‘German Pet Trade & Industry Association’ (ZZF), ‘Blue Cross’ in the UK, ‘American Veterinary Medical Association’ (AVMA) and the ‘World Organisation for Animal Health’ (OiE), all help promote this.
Education is also an important part of the ‘One Health’ initiative which promotes the benefits of owning pets towards controlling a wide range of human medical conditions like hypertension and mental health improvement. However, if as a society we fail in our duty to look after our pets’ health and wellbeing then ultimately our own health might well suffer.
Whilst the scope of the OiE is wide ranging and includes livestock, working and companion animals, their aims and mission statement ‘Protecting animals, preserving our future’ summarises the importance of working together to promote responsible pet ownership as this recognises the importance of pets in 21st century society.
Without input from the broad coalition of stakeholders, responsible pet ownership is not sustainable and it can be argued that failure will result in society not gaining the widespread benefits associated with pet ownership.
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