In too many cases, much loved animals are suffering because we don’t understand their needs. If our animals are truly members of the family, we must extend to them the kindness and dignity of a full, healthy life. Please support our summer appeal today to improve the lives of the animals we call family.
Love is not enough, but it’s a good place to start
More than half of UK households are home to an animal companion. Therefore it’s no surprise that we often describe ourselves as a nation of animal lovers. Tragically, though, love is not enough. In too many cases, much loved companion animals are suffering because we don’t understand their needs. Some have severe physical health problems because we have selectively bred them to look a certain way. Others struggle with mental health problems. This is because we misinterpret their behaviour and fail to provide for their emotional needs. Animals express their emotions in different ways, not necessarily as humans do.
A vet’s perspective
“As a vet who worked in a charity pet hospital for 40 years, I am not easily shocked. However, in the last months before I retired, I was seeing suffering daily. This was not due to neglect or ill-treatment – far from it – I’m talking about much-loved pets that had unfortunately been bredfor looks without consideration for health. The rapidly increasing popularity of dogs, cats and rabbits with extreme body shapes – especially the flat-faced or brachycephalic breeds is truly worrying. We must do all we can to explain to potential owners how these pets suffer with multiple painful problems and drive down the demand for them.”
Dr A M Cage BVM&S MRCVS, retired senior vet at PDSA
We know that people love their companions and would never knowingly cause them harm. But we need to help people truly understand their animals, so they can better provide for them. We want to educate and inspire people to recognise that animals are individuals. They too have personalities and things that matter to them. People need to appreciate that they have mental and physical health needs just as important and complex, but not necessarily the same as ours.
Animals condemned to a lifetime of suffering
We have bred animals to look the way we want for hundreds of years. Over recent decades, in some breeds, features we desire have become so exaggerated that the animals’ bodies don’t work properly. Some people believe that health issues are “normal” for these breeds. They are not “normal” – and we want to raise awareness so people understand that.
One example – the Scottish Fold cat – is valued for its characteristic folded ears. Unfortunately, this is due to a genetic mutation which causes cartilage to malform. This doesn’t just affect their ears, but their whole bodies, meaning that they live in pain, suffering from arthritis, painful legs and tails, and possible spinal abnormalities. They are unable to move or play normally. Some will become severely disabled.
There is nothing to celebrate in lifelong suffering
Many other breeds of dogs, cats and rabbits live a lifetime of poor health due to cruel breeding standards. Some have become popular, in part, because they are glamourised by celebrities and influencers on social media. There is nothing to celebrate in lifelong suffering. We don’t choose our human friends and family based on their looks, and we certainly don’t change their looks in ways that make them suffer. If our animals are truly members of the family, we must give them a full, healthy life.
The rapidly increasing and changing demands for certain breeds also fuels the low welfare puppy and kitten trade. People are profiting at the expense of animals bred on puppy farms. Starting life in such awful conditions can cause lifelong physical and mental health problems. These issues can lead to large vet bills and heartbreak for unknowing families.
Companion animals have mental health too
The mental health impacts on animals are especially worrying. These puppies and kittens miss out on crucial socialisation, meaning they don’t get a chance to become comfortable with humans and our world. They might also be traumatised by their early surroundings and treatment, resulting in anxiety, phobias, hyperactivity, fear-based aggression, and other behaviours that humans struggle to cope with.
Lack of socialisation and early trauma are common causes of mental health problems in companion animals, but there are others. Many come from an incomplete understanding of our animals and their needs. We love them, but in some cases treat them somewhere between child and toy – rather than understanding their true selves and their needs as a species or as individuals.
Understanding our beloved companions
Sadly, rabbits are often misunderstood. As prey animals, rabbits hide their stress, remaining silent and still, an instinct which helps them survive in the wild. It’s easy to misunderstand this as contentment. Rabbits don’t like being alone or being picked up, but love to move, dig and chew. Too often, they are kept alone in small hutches, and occasionally picked up and cuddled.
Love shouldn’t mean a lifetime of solitary confinement or having no choice in how people touch you.
We take dogs out with us into our world; it’s our responsibility to give them confidence and guidance operating within it. Otherwise, they can be anxious, aggressive, or hyperactive, potentially making life difficult for themselves and other people and dogs they meet. Sometimes people then become exasperated, dismissing them as badly behaved.
Love shouldn’t mean having your mental health struggles dismissed or punished
The love and joy animals bring into our lives has been a huge comfort to many people during lockdown. In fact, lots of people have taken new animals into their homes during the pandemic. We are worried that some of them did not fully understand the responsibility they were taking on. Those animals may have only known one family so new people might be unsettling for them, and they may find it hard to adjust when lockdown eases and routines change.
We want to encourage more people to think carefully about whether they can provide for the physical and emotional needs of an animal before offering them a home. This requires some ‘homework’ to learn what those needs are. Bringing a companion into the home isn’t just about what they provide us; we must also consider if we are the right fit for them.
What can we do?
We want everybody who has companion animals, and even those who don’t, to learn more about animal wellbeing, behaviour and body language. So many of the problems people have with animals stem from misunderstanding. Media portrayals of animals and outdated dominance-based training techniques by celebrity trainers, make this worse. Often, our animals are trying to tell us something is wrong, and we don’t see or understand the signs.
Those signs could be a brachycephalic (flat-faced) animal struggling to breathe, or a dog’s body language showing she is uncomfortable with a child in her space.
The last example is an important one – we should teach children how to interact with animals thoughtfully to improve animal well-being long term. Children and animals can form strong bonds, which can improve the child’s mental health and wellbeing. Animal behaviour and welfare education can improve children’s knowledge of animals and understanding of their emotions and needs. This will ensure they don’t treat them roughly or like toys and may lead to increased empathy for other humans too.
That is why we want animal behaviour and welfare to be made compulsory in the Scottish school curriculum. We want to create a movement of people educating themselves and others. This way we can understand our animals and give them the best life possible. OneKind also wants to discourage buying from breeders who value looks over welfare. Let’s end the suffering of the animals we love and bring into our homes.
Please donate today. Your gift will help to raise awareness and create long term change,
ending the silent suffering of the animals we call family. All of our work is funded by you, our supporters. Everything we have achieved, we have done with your help. Thank you for your compassion for animals and determination to improve their lives.