What does the EU’s new transport proposal mean for cats, dogs and equines?

What does the EU’s new transport proposal mean for cats, dogs and equines?

5 March 2024
News
In December 2023, the European Commission published its proposal for a Regulation on the protection of animals during transport. To what extent does the new proposal protect equines (horses, donkey and mules) and companion animals (cats and dogs)?

Transport can be stressful for any animal due to a variety of physical, behavioural and psychological challenges. EU transport rules have so far been very weak in providing protection for equines and companion animals, and implementation was difficult. This new proposal will close certain loopholes, but further improvements are still needed.

Equines

Encouraging new provisions including a limited journey time of 9 hours for animals sent to slaughter; improved space conditions allowing horses and other equines to move comfortably and maintain balance to minimise injury risk; enhanced transparency through mandatory journey logs with a shift to digitalisation, and more temperature awareness to assess risks associated with extreme weather during transport.

The proposal raises several concerns about the practicality and effectiveness of certain provisions while also showing a persistent inconsistency in the terminology;  switching between terms like “equidae”, “equine”, “horse” and “equid”, creating confusion and potential legal issues or when using indistinctly “fit for transport” and “fitness for the intended journey”, two expressions that are not interchangeable.

Whilst the proposal incorporates GPS tracking data, there’s a lack of provisions on driver training, a significant factor impacting equine welfare during transport. The incorporation of an accelerometer-based system to monitor driving quality and ensure animal welfare during transport would be welcomed.

Companion animals (cats and dogs)

The welfare of dogs and cats was never adequately protected by the current EU legislation on the welfare of animals during transport, with very few species-specific provisions among which: dogs and cats of less than 8 weeks of age unless accompanied by their mother are not allowed to be transported; feeding intervals of no more than 24 hours and water intervals no more than 8 hours. 

The proposal establishes a minimum age of 12 weeks for transport, which will allow for a better development of immunity against infectious diseases. It also includes additional veterinary health checks whose digitalisation we advocate for. 

The proposal does not include the use of objective body condition scores, which is crucial for recognising animals at non-optimal weights which are more at risk of temperature regulation issues, stress and even death during transport. We appreciate the explicit mention of brachycephalic breeds, however “adapting” the existing parameters of a constant temperature between 20 and 25 °C and humidity between 30 and 70% will simply not suffice. More specific thresholds for such breeds are needed or else they will be left open to the interpretation of the operator.

The proposed revisions to EU animal transport regulations offer potential steps towards improved animal welfare, addressing concerns like stress, fatigue, and injuries. While ongoing discussions and potential limitations remain, the current form demonstrates a cautious optimism for progress in the transport sector.