Cats and dogs are some of the most commonly kept companion animals in Europe, with an estimated 64 and 60 millions respectively, yet there is no species-specific welfare legislation to protect them at the EU level
While there are rules and standards for farm animals at EU level, there is little legislation covering the welfare of pets, and they all too often become the victims of abandonment, negligence and abuse. Where legislation does exist, even policy makers acknowledge that enforcement is often insufficient.
How these animals are protected is therefore mostly dependent on national legislation. Cultural differences in appreciation of animals in general, and cats and dogs in particular, are significant. Some countries see cats and dogs as part of the family, while in others their care is minimal, frequently leading to them being mistreated or abandoned. Local practices such as the caging of cats and mistreatment of dogs by their owners through physical abuse, lack of socialisation, insufficient exercise or training through punishment, will persist unless there is a fully harmonised framework with at least minimum standards.
Nor are cats and dogs protected when they are being moved or traded around Europe or otherwise impacted by circumstances beyond the national level. While there are species-specific rules for transport of farm animals, there aren’t for the transport of cats and dogs, and this is in stark contrast with the booming of online trade, leading to animals being transported cross-border over long distances.
The same is true for welfare standards among breeders of cats and dogs across the EU. This has a huge impact on the animals, as well as on the consumers who buy cats and dogs as pets, often born in another Member State. Poor breeding practices lead to animals both physically and behaviourally unsound. In particular, breeding cats and dogs for a particular “look” (extreme traits) rather than selecting for health, is flourishing and is not covered by legislation, or the legislation that exists is not enforced.
BILLION HOUSEHOLD CATS LIVE IN EUROPE
COMMONEST KEPT ANIMAL IN THE EU IS THE DOG
EU CITIZENS THINK MORE MEASURES ARE NEEDED TO PROTECT COMPANION ANIMALS
WHAT DOES THE PUBLIC THINK?
The vast majority of Europeans think that more measures are needed to ensure animal welfare in Europe, with 74% indicating that this is true for companion animals in particular. According to the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the European Union workshop and Eurogroup for Animals report Illegal Pet Trade: Game Over, the public, including a majority of the Ministries, believes that in order to protect animals, public health and consumers, it is time to come up with EU-wide rules on the trade of pets (92%). Moreover, the EU (75%) and Member States (53%) should be responsible for ensuring the traceability of animals sold across borders. Finally, the need for an EU taskforce to tackle the cross-border illegal pet trade clearly emerged (94%).
POLICY - CURRENT STATE OF PLAY
Caring for companion animals from the legal point of view is at the moment a joint effort between the EU, which can do the job indirectly by regulating public health, the internal market and consumer protection, and Member States, which set their own rules on the respect, treatment and welfare of animals.
As a result, each EU country has different legal frameworks which deal with animal welfare. For instance, identification and registration (I&R) of cats and dogs differs across Member States. According to a mapping prepared by the EU Platform on Animal Welfare Voluntary Initiative Group on the Health and Welfare of Pets (Dogs) in Trade, 22 out of 27 EU Member States require I&R for dogs, yet only three, Belgium, France and Greece, require it for cats. This demonstrates the disparities between countries in the treatment of dogs and cats as domestic pets.
In addition, there are no common EU requirements across Member States on the breeding of cats and dogs, or registration and licencing of breeding establishments. Hopefully, when the new Animal Health Law enters into force on 21st April 2021, its indications will contribute somewhat towards harmonising the welfare of these companion animals across the European Union. For example Member States will have to at least register breeding establishments. But enforcement, as well as the remaining pieces of the puzzle, are still missing.