The new opinion “Scientific and technical assistance on welfare aspects related to housing and health of cats and dogs in commercial breeding establishments” focuses on three aspects; housing, health and painful surgical procedures. EFSA came to the following conclusions:
Evidence supports that cats and dogs used for breeding should not be kept permanently in boxes, crates or cages (whether multi-storey or not). Such confinement compromises their welfare, leading to abnormal behaviour and distress.
According to EFSA, further evidence is needed to support the fact that breeding dogs need an outdoor area for exercising and socialisation on a daily basis. It is at least acknowledged that such needs should be fulfilled regularly and preferably on a daily basis.
EFSA concluded that ideal housing temperature for the majority of adult cats is 15- 26°C. An ideal housing temperature in adult breeding dogs could not be provided due to the diversity of breeds and types of dogs. There is little or no research to conclude on the ideal housing temperatures for young kittens, pregnant bitches or puppies.
Although the role of light in regulating physiological, behavioural and hormonal parameters is widely known, EFSA believes there is insufficient scientific evidence to support the idea that access to daylight has an impact on the welfare of breeding dogs and cats.
Specific focus was placed on welfare issues associated with reproduction, as well as breeding frequency.
EFSA concluded that no breeding should take place before skeletal maturity, even though puberty may happen first. On the frequency of pregnancy, it is advisable to assess the body condition score and general state of health to prevent exhaustion and, for queens over 6 years and bitches over 8 years, a check-up by a vet is recommended.
There is no universal approach to the minimum breeding age for bitches and queens, or to the minimum time between whelping. In the case of dogs, size is considered an important factor: for small breeds an age of 18 months is considered as fully grown, while for larger breeds, a prior check is necessary.
Painful surgical interventions
So-called cosmetic surgeries such as declawing to prevent scratching in cats (a perfectly natural and necessary behaviour), tail docking in dogs, ear cropping and debarking should never be performed unless necessary for the animal’s health.
Eurogroup for Animals welcomes EFSA’s conclusion on the clear impairment of dog and cat welfare during painful surgical procedures, as well as the irreversible damage caused by living permanently in boxes, crates and cages. Nevertheless it is regrettable that the lack of scientific evidence for what we could call common sense approaches may put a hold on improving inadequate living conditions.