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The Role of Veterinarians in the Welfare of Companion Animals

Introduction

Animal welfare in Malaysia is a complex issue as we live in a multiracial, multireligious and multicultural society. Animal welfare is gaining importance as we find many issues on animal abuse in the media by animal welfare organizations Veterinary universities, colleges and faculties around the world have started teaching animal welfare and included this as part of their curriculum. Veterinarians play an important role in Animal Welfare, as they can educate the pet owners/clients on responsible pet ownership. The Veterinarian’s role in animal welfare is very extensive as it encompasses a wide range of animal species like Farm Animals, Wildlife, Companion Animals, Poultry, etc.

1) Dogs and Cats Population Control – Spaying / Neutering


The over-populated stray in Malaysia today can be controlled only through spaying / neutering. Veterinarians should educate their clients the importance of spaying/neutering. Increase in population creates increased pressure upon the dogs in their day-to-day struggle to survive, each generation having a poorer quality of life as increased numbers mean less food to go around, less territory and fewer mates leading to increased fighting and disease. These diseases include the diseases which are communicable to humans as well as the dog population, such as rabies, leptospirosis, etc.  Neutering reduces problematic behavior such as mounting, urine spraying, marking, roaming and male aggression.

2) Early Age (Pre-pubertal) Spaying/ Neutering of Dogs and Cats


The concept of early age spaying / neutering in dogs and cats, in an effort to reduce the number of unwanted stray is always encouraged. Spaying pet early in life has proven to reduce the risk of malignant tumor.

3) Declawing of Domestic Cats


Cat claws are always trimmed regularly to avoid damage to household items. The practice of Declawing is actively discouraged in most countries. Declaw surgery can be extremely painful procedure with associated risks and complications such as infection, permanent lameness, pain or arthritis.

4) Ear Cropping and Tail Docking of Dogs


Inspire of ban in most countries, some Veterinarians continue to practice ear cropping and tail docking due to pressure from the dog owners, to preserve breed character. Currently the Malaysian Kennel Association (MKA) allows tail docked dogs to compete in dog’s shows and club events. The pain and suffering that these dogs endure, so that they can look different/have  ears that stand up, is senseless animal cruelty, unnecessary, painful, and cruel or mutilation.

5) Canine Devocalization


Some breeders and dog owners request Veterinarians to perform devocalization to keep their pets from barking and howling. The practice of devocalizing dogs and cats involves an invasive surgery that cuts or removes the animal’s vocal cords. While the process itself is typically a relatively quick one, the after effects can be quite harmful for the animal, including acute, long-term respiratory afflictions. Furthermore, devocalization severely limits the animal’s ability to communicate naturally with other animals and even its owners. Most disturbingly, the practice of devocalizing dogs and cats is done almost solely for human convenience. Debarking is banned in United Kingdom and in some state of USA. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends that it should be performed by licensed Veterinarians as a final alternative after behavioral modifications efforts to correct exercise vocalization have failed.

6) Removal or Reduction of Teeth as a Treatment for Canine Aggression


This approach to manage aggression does not address the cause of the behavior. The dogs may still cause injury with remaining teeth. It is best to correct the dog’s behavior by sending the animals to qualified trainer to modify the behavior.

7) Transport of Dogs in Open Cargo Area of Pickup Trucks


Malaysia’s weather is hot and humid. Transporting dogs in such weather in open trucks should be discouraged. Pet owners need to be counseled and educated about this as such methods will cause stress and heat stroke.

8) Animal Abuse and Animal Neglect Docking of Dogs


Veterinarians in their daily practice may observe cases of animal abuse or neglect. It is the responsibility of the Veterinarian to report such cases to appropriate authorities. According to SPCA and Department of Veterinary Service (DVS), they hardly receive such reports as most Veterinarians feel that it is not in their jurisdiction and afraid as reporting may cause harm to their practice. Furthermore, they need to keep accurate records and documentations before the owner could be prosecuted.

9) Physical Restraints of Animals


We always get complaints from pet owners that some Veterinarians are not handling sick patients properly. They cause pain and stress while examining, administering drugs and injection in the presence of the owners. Whenever possible, Veterinarians should use appropriate methods and in some situation chemical restraint may be the preferred method. Veterinarians should educate owners on various methods to administer medications.

10) Euthanasia of Animals


Veterinarians often have to make difficult decision to “put down” or euthanize the pet animal. The AVMA has come out with the guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals. Incurably ill, highly aggressive and mortally wounded dogs as diagnosed by a qualified Veterinarian shall be euthanized in a humane manner by administering Pentobarbital Sodium IV for adult dogs and Intraperitoneal for puppies by a Veterinarian. No dog shall be euthanized in the presence of another dog. The person responsible for euthanizing shall make sure that the animal is dead, before disposal.

The Five Freedoms


1.  Freedom from hunger and thirst - by providing enough fresh water and the right type and amount of food to keep them fit.
2.  Freedom from discomfort - by making sure that animals have the right type of environment including shelter and somewhere comfortable to rest.
3.  Freedom from pain, injury and disease - by preventing them from getting ill or injured and by making sure animals are diagnosed and treated rapidly if they do.
4.  Freedom to behave normally - by making sure animals have enough space, proper facilities and the company of other animals of their own kind.
5.  Freedom from fear and distress - by making sure their conditions and treatment avoid mental suffering.

Conclusion

Veterinarians should educate their clients of responsible pet ownership.  During treatment, Veterinarians should talk to the owners about how to take care of their cats and dogs by following the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare.

References

1. Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal (2014). The Five Freedoms http://www.rspca.org.uk
2. American Veterinary Medical Association (January 2009). The Veterinarian’s Role in Animal Welfare http://www.avma.org

Dr.Maanikam graduated from Madras Veterinary College, India in 1976. He started his career with United Asia Bank upon returning from India.  In 1991, he resigned his job to start his own business in Veterinary pharmaceuticals & supplies, KM Vet Pharm Sdn Bhd. He also started his clinical practice in large and small  animal  at  Batu  Caves,  KM  Animal  Wellness  Centre  (KM Animal  Clinic  &  Surgery  Sdn Bhd).  Currently, he assists few Animal Shelters and also conducts regular training for farmers.


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