Assessing Your Pets’ Welfare Using Brambell’s Five Freedoms

I’ve taken the liberty of condensing this article written by Don Hanson in the Fall 2014 issue of The APDT Chronicle of the Dog. I find this magazine to be a wonderful source of up to date new scientific research and information, as well as behavioral findings and advanced knowledge in the world of the dog and dog training and behavior modification. This article challenges us to think a little more and digs a little deeper! Enjoy it and share the knowledge!

Brambell’s Five Freedoms originated in the United Kingdom as a result of Parliament creating a committee to assess the welfare of livestock raised in factory farms. While originally intended for farm animals, the freedoms can be applied to any animal that is kept by humans.

Ensure the Animal Is Free From Hunger, Thirst, and Malnutrition

This sounds quite simple. All I need to do is provide my animal with food and water. However, here are some aspects to consider:

  • Does the type of food matter? Cats are true carnivores and most dogs, left to their own devices, would eat a diet with very few carbohydrates and more fresh food. Studies show however, that the average cat and dog are fed a diet that is probably at a minimum composed of 40% carbs and the foods are highly processed. Is it better to have one pet and feed him the optimal diet, or is it better to have multiple pets for socialization purposes? What about pets with prescription diets? They may need it for disease purposes but do these diets provide the optimal nutrition? Which takes precedence?
  • Many pets in the USA are obese, clearly due to overfeeding, improper diet, and lack of exercise. How does this affect the welfare of our animal?
  • Does the source of water matter? Cats often depend on getting the majority of their hydration from eating live prey, yet few cats in today’s world have that opportunity. Would they drink more and have fewer urinary issues if they had ready access to the fresh meat and running water? If they don’t drink from your tap, should they?

Ensure the Animal Is Free From Discomfort

This used to be pretty straightforward: make sure the animal always has adequate shelter from temperature and weather extremes. Today there is much more to comfort than hot versus cold and dry versus damp.

  • Animals need down time. Does your pet have a quiet and comfortable resting place where he can be undisturbed and where he will feel safe? Is his environment free from things that can cause harm and discomfort?
  • Many people have multiple pets. Does each pet have adequate space, or are there too many animals for the space available? Do the pets get along and do they enjoy one another?
  • Breed also affects what an animal needs to be comfortable. Long haired breeds will need proper grooming.

Ensure Your Pet Is Free From Pain, Injury, and Disease

Regular and as needed veterinary care is common sense, however, breeding also plays a huge role, as well as how we respond to our pet when he is ill or injured. Have we taken mental disease into consideration?

  • Working dogs and dogs who compete in sports can experience injuries that cause pain. Painkillers often are not enough, so do we consider taking the dog out of the sporting activity that he loves of in order to heal? Should we consider adding in dog physical therapy?
  • Breeding has resulted in some pets who have physical impairments that can affect their ability to breathe, to move, and even to give birth naturally. How much should these pets be put through in an effort to correct their conditions? How do we handle these issues with our own pets?
  • Many purebred pets are susceptible to one or more genetic disorders, as well as physical conformations that often cause impairments. Are breeders doing everything that should be done to eliminate these disorders and create healthier pets? Should we steer away from certain breeds when considering what type of pet to get? How do we evaluate without being judgmental?
  • Animals can experience mental disease and disorders (anxieties, phobias, dementia, etc.) just like humans. How do we reconcile that the treatments to these disorders are often not considered as important as physical disorders?

Ensure Your Pet Is Free to Express Normal Behaviors

The ability to express normal behaviors is often problematic, because normal behaviors are the behaviors that humans dislike (cat hunting, wild animal chasing, bird killing, digging, dogs sniffing crotches, etc.)

  • Do you have enough space to safely let your pets run and express normal behavior both indoor and outdoor? Are they provided an opportunity to do so on a regular basis? Are cats getting enough chase games?
  • Is the environment in which the animals live suitably enriched so that it stimulates their minds?
  • Do the pets have sufficient interaction with family members to establish a bond and to provide emotional enrichment?
  • Are there opportunities to interact with suitable members of their own species, if they choose to do so, in a manner that is rewarding for all parties?
  • Humans use dogs for a variety of jobs. Is it ethical to put dogs in working situations where they are not allowed to express many normal behaviors for most of their lives?
  • There are a number of breeds that humans choose to physically alter by docking their tails or cropping their ears. Tails and ears are both tools that dogs use to communicate with one another. Do physical alterations impair a dog’s ability to express normal behaviors and to communicate?

Ensure Your Pet Is Free From Fear and Distress

I truly hope that any healthy human would never cause intentional pain, fear or distress to their animal. However, lack of knowledge, or incorrect knowledge about animal behavior often have a negative impact on an animal’s life.

  • Early socialization and habituation is key to freedom from fear and distress, as is ongoing socialization and enrichment throughout a dog’s life. What can we do to help humanity, pet guardians, shelters, veterinarians, rescuers, dog handlers, etc. to realize the importance of socialization and habituation? What can we do as new puppy owners to be successful in socializing our puppies and not be overwhelmed at the same time?
  • Cats have an easier socialization period than dogs (two to five weeks). How do we make sure that breeders and shelters are aware of this and take steps to accomplish this? What about the feral population? Is it just kinder to leave them be?
  • Many animals have a more fearful baseline, due to personality, genetics, prior history, and despite the best intentions, pet owners throw the animal into situations that involve harmful training techniques and tools (flooding, choke chains, electric shock) to re-socialize them. At what point does management become more preferable?
  • Dog bites, especially of children, are a significant problem, and are often caused by a dog who is afraid or is otherwise under stress. In some cases the child is the direct cause of that fear. How do we convince the dog-owning public and the non-dog-owning public the importance of learning basic canine body language so that many of these bites can be prevented?
  • A lack of adequate physical and mental stimulation can cause a pet to be distressed.
  • On the flip side, too much stimulation and exercise can also be detrimental, causing a state of chronic stress. Many dogs will not do well in a daycare setting, playing all day or going for a five-mile run every morning. How do we educate that too much is too much and how do we create a balance?
  • While both dog and cat are considered to be social animals, some are more social than others. If we have multiple pets in the household, can we ensure that we are being fair to each of them, or should one be rehomed?
  • Communication and understanding are the cornerstones of good relations. How do we get the dog-owning public to understand that learning dog body language and training their dogs with reward-based training is key to ensuring that their dogs do not live in fear and distress?
  • Stress comes in two varieties: distress (scary things, trauma) and eustress (excitement). Whether distress or eustress, what happens to the body physiologically is very similar, and being in a state of frequent stress can have negative impacts on health. Occasional stress is unavoidable but high doses can be extremely detrimental. How do we help our pets and manage and balance their lives to avoid long-term stress, free from pain and disease?

There are not necessarily straightforward answers to satisfying Brambell’s Five Freedoms for all animals in all situations. As with any treatment or training plan, all factors need to be considered and weighed. Perhaps this will encourage all of us to spend some time thinking about the freedoms and how they apply to the animals in our lives, the global ethical questions they bring, and also learning how we can use them to help educate others.

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