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.