Animal welfare

We take the welfare of our Medical Detection Dogs extremely seriously. From the moment they come to us as puppies we ensure the highest standards of care for our dogs. We have a strict no kennel policy and all our dogs live in the homes of our staff or fantastic local volunteers where they are loved and cared for as part of the family.

Frequently asked questions about dogs' welfare

What are the basic welfare requirements for your dogs, and indeed for all animals?  The welfare of our Medical Detection Dogs is an important issue from the time the puppy comes into our care and this continues through the lifetime of the dog.  The 5 Freedoms below outline the basic requirements for all animals. The Five Freedoms:

  • FREEDOM FROM DISCOMFORT (temperature, hard bedding, etc.). 

How do you ensure the Medical Detection Dogs are able to get enough sleep when, as part of their role, they often wake at night to alert their owner?  Most dogs will sleep between 12 and 18 hours a day.  Active service dogs will sleep less than sedentary pets as, it is thought, dogs have a tendency to sleep when nothing stimulating is happening.  Dogs also have a much easier time of scheduling their sleep as they are able to simply shift their sleeping time to whatever time is available. Dogs have sleep cycles in which they experience periods of quiet, restful sleep, interspaced with periods of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.  Dogs cycle through the various stages very quickly (15 minutes) compared to humans (90 minutes).  This means that they are well suited to interrupted sleep patterns.

How are dogs able to wake up to alert their owner?  The smell of food will quickly awaken a dog during any sleep cycles and our dogs are also woken by the particular odour which they have been trained to link to a food reward.  In other words they can carry out their detection work even while asleep.

How can we help a Medical Detection Dog, or indeed any dog, with their sleep requirements?  If you see your dog in REM sleep, i.e. eyelids twitching, barking or ‘running,’ then research has shown that their movements relate to the part of the brain that is active when a dog is chasing prey.  It is not a bad dream. Sleeping on their back is usually done during deep (REM) sleep. It may also be done if the dog is trying to cool itself.  They are comfortable in this position. Curled up dogs may not sleep deeply as they cannot completely relax their muscles. It may also be indicative of the dog being too cold.  Make sure they always have space to stretch out and are not in a draught. Let them sleep, let them dream and get their rest.

What are the main dog welfare issues in Britain at present?  Research from the Royal Veterinary College has highlighted the most urgent issues that need to be addressed for the improvement of dog welfare in Britain. These include owners’ lack of awareness of welfare needs, inherited disease or exaggerated physical features, intensive and unregulated puppy rearing, a lack of appropriate provision for behavioural needs and poor health due to the animal being overweight.

What is obesity and why is it an issue in dogs?  Far from being comical, obesity in our dogs is a welfare issue and rightly so.  All dogs, pets or otherwise, deserve the best care possible and our Medical Detection Dogs absolutely require good care.  We depend on them for the services they provide and they depend on us to keep them free from pain and discomfort. Obesity can be defined as an excess of body fat that is enough to impair health, welfare and quality of life.  Fat excess in dogs is attributed to several factors, including genetic pre-disposition, reproductive management and dietary/exercise (human) management. There are also some diseases that can cause excessive weight. Too much weight is a serious welfare issue in pets because it can cause unnecessary suffering and can be extremely disabling to dogs.  It can also affect the dog for long periods or, in some cases, cause health problems for their whole life.

What problems can arise if a dog is obese?  Problems which have a direct link to obesity can include orthopaedic disease (arthritis/joint pain), diabetes mellitus, abnormalities in circulating lipid profiles, cardio respiratory disease, urinary disorders, reproductive disorders, neoplasia (mammary tumours and transitional cell carcinoma), dermatological diseases, and anaesthetic complications. (German 2006).

What effect can these obesity-related issues have on a dog?  These conditions not only shorten the expected lifespan of the affected animals, but also reduce their health-related quality of life, so weight problems in dogs have considerable potential to cause suffering. One questionnaire-based study (German and others 2012b) tried to assess the health-related quality of life of dogs following weight loss. A clear correlation was found between a reduction in weight and fat mass and an increase in vitality. It was also found that dogs showed fewer signs of being emotionally disturbed and of being in pain following a successful weight loss programme.

Why is it so difficult to recognise when my dog is overweight?  In an article published in Veterinary Record, the journal of the British Veterinary Association, Peter Sandøe and colleagues argue that the relationship between obesity in people and in companion animals is closer and more complex than previously thought, and the owner’s perception of normal weight may be reflected in the weight of their dog.  There are issues of owners under-classifying the condition of their dog, and thus not addressing the problems of being overweight. As many people do not recognise that their companion animals are overweight or obese, or seem unable to manage their animal’s weight, vets have an important role to play in highlighting the problem when the animals are brought to the clinic for vaccination or regular health checks.  (Dorsten CM, et al 88)

I don’t think my dog is overweight, but how can I check?  A number of approaches have been developed to help owners and vets address the issue of pets being overweight and obese, both through collaboration with pet food companies and through development of practice-friendly guidelines from central veterinary organisations (Freeman and others 2011Brooks and others 2014). Tools such as the body condition score (BCS) have been developed to enable owners to check whether their companion is a healthy size. There are a few simple checks you can do yourself.

  • You should be able to see and feel the outline of your pet’s ribs without excess fat covering.
  • You should be able to see and feel your pet’s waist and it should be clearly visible when viewed from above.
  • Your pet’s belly should be tucked up when viewed from the side.

If you are still unsure of the appropriate body profile of your dog, see your veterinarian for a professional opinion.

What can I do to help to keep my dog’s weight steady, or perhaps to help it lose weight? 

  • Add a little extra active play to his day.
  • Take a portion of his daily diet and use it for treats rather than adding to the daily meal with extra treats.
  • If the weight is not coming off, take your dog for a check-up by your veterinarian and, perhaps, special food advice.

References:  On sleep in dogs: 

  • Dr. Joan C. Hendricks, DVM; University of Pennsylvania; School of Veterinary Medicine.
  • William Dement, MD; University of Stanford.
  • Michel Jouvet, Lyon France.
  • Stanley Coren, MD; University of British Columbia.
  • Dr. Alan Beck; Director of the Centre of Applied Ethology and Animal-Human Interaction; Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine.

On obesity and fitness in dogs: 

  • Buckland EL, Whiting MC, Abeyesinghe SM, Asher L, Corr S, and Wathes CM 2013 A survey of stakeholders’ opinions on the priority issues affecting the welfare of companion dogs in Great Britain. Animal Welfare 22: 239-253.
  • DOI: 0.7120/09627286.22.2.239
  • 88. Dorsten CM, Cooper DM. Use of body condition scoring to manage body weight in dogs. Contemp Top Lab Anim Sci 2004;43:34-37.
  • 89. Laflamme DP. Development and validation of a body condition score system for dogs: a clinical tool. Canine Pract 1997;22:10-15.

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