Cats and dogs are neglected by the law

Cats and dogs are some of the most commonly kept animals, yet there is no species-specific welfare legislation to protect them in EU law.

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 for a local festival in Spain, and mistreatment of dogs by their owners through physical abuse, lack of socialisation or sufficient exercise or training through punishment, will persist unless there is a fully harmonised framework of at least minimum standards. 

Nor are cats and dogs protected when they are being moved around Europe. 

While the transport of farm animals is protected at least to some minimum extent, the transport of cats and dogs is not, with no species-specific rules provided - and this is in stark contrast to the booming of the 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.

Breeding cats and dogs for a particular ‘look’ (‘extreme traits’) rather than selecting for health is booming, enforced by online sales, and is not covered by legislation – or legislation that exists is not enforced.

THERE ARE AROUND

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OWNED CATS IN THE EU

DOGS ARE THE

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COMMONEST KEPT ANIMAL IN THE EU

IN A EUROBAROMETER SURVEY,

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OF RESPONDENTS 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. 

With so many Europeans owning at least one pet, the scope for creating a critical mass of concerned citizens is enormous. With the ‘EU Care For Our Companions’ campaign in 2018, Eurogroup for Animals showed European institutions and decision-makers that citizens care for their cats and dogs by sharing selfies with their pets. Over 26 national and local organisations joined, and in no more than a few weeks more than 10,000 people sent in a photo.

There are disparities between countries in the treatment of dogs and cats as domestic pets. According to a mapping prepared by the EU Platform on Animal Welfare Own Initiative Sub-group on the Health and Welfare of Pets (Dogs) in Trade, 22 EU Member States require I&R for dogs, yet only three – Belgium, France and Greece – require I&R for cats. 

POLICY - CURRENT STATE OF PLAY

The EU has no direct competence to regulate the welfare of dogs and cats. 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 the Member States, which set their own rules on the respect, treatment and welfare of animals. As a result of this, each EU country has different legal frameworks which deal with animal welfare. 

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, the Member States will have to register breeding establishments at least. But enforcement, as well as the remaining pieces of the puzzle, are still missing.

We would like to see the EC build on the recommendations of the EU Platform on Animal Welfare (EU PAW) voluntary subgroup on the health and welfare of pets in trade to protect the health and welfare of cats and dogs.

In the framework of the EU PAW, Eurogroup for Animals, with the support of Member States and experts, is engaged in developing such guidelines covering consumer information, online platforms, TRACES, I&R, breeding and socialisation, and commercial transport.

We are also keen for the European Commission to propose a delegated act on identification and registration of cats and dogs in response to the increasing illegal pet trade and multiple requests from the European Parliament, as well as to reflect on the proceedings of the Illegal Pet Trade: Game Over workshop of the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.