MSD Manual

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Pet Owner Version

Animal Welfare


Lynette A. Hart

, PhD, Department of Population Health and Reproduction, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis;

Mariko Yamamoto

, PhD, Department of Animal Sciences, Faculty of Life and Environmental Sciences, Teikyo University of Science

Reviewed/Revised Nov 2019 | Modified Nov 2022

Most responsible pet owners and handlers have good intentions for their pets’ welfare, and they work to reduce and prevent pain and promote well-being and pleasure in their companion animals. However, animal neglect and abuse still occur. People who intentionally and deliberately abuse animals are more likely to do the same to vulnerable human members of their household, such as children or the elderly. Reporting suspected animal abuse to local authorities might help save people from abuse, too.

Extreme cases of abuse are less common than cases of neglect and general poor care, some of which may not be done on purpose. This might include failing to feed the animal a proper, nutritious diet, not providing adequate space or housing, or simply not providing regular veterinary care or vaccinations.

Another serious problem occurs with animal hoarders, who may be mentally ill. Animal hoarders, perhaps without realizing it or intending to, acquire more animals than they can care for properly. Some communities address cases of animal hoarding by bringing in both animal control and mental health agencies.

A larger, society-wide animal welfare problem is the abandoning or killing of companion animals. Although the number of people who give up or abandon pets has dropped, the problem is still widespread. Pet owners who are not knowledgeable about animal care and training are more likely to relinquish their pets, especially if the pet has a behavior problem or if the owner had unrealistic expectations about life with a pet.

If you are considering becoming a pet owner for the first time, or keeping a new type of pet, it is highly recommended that you do research about the particular type of animal before you bring one home. This should include its diet and exercise needs, housing, amount of human interaction or daily care needed, and regular health care, including recommendations about spaying or neutering. Having your pet spayed or neutered before it matures will prevent unwanted litters, but for dogs, at least, there are other things to take into account. Routine spaying and neutering has been common in the US and was thought to provide health benefits without any drawbacks. However, recent research has shown that while there may be some health benefits, there are also some increased health risks. Consulting with a veterinarian is the best way to make an informed decision. Breeders, veterinarians, and animal shelters can help owners choose an appropriate pet and understand their responsibilities to the animal, reducing the likelihood that the owner will eventually give up the pet because it became a burden instead of a joy.

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