Methods Animals Communicate with Each Other; Basics

The Different Types of Communication

Communication is present between all animals and, at a microscopic level,  all living cells.  It tends to be species-specific meaning the communication of one species often can only be fully understood by members of the same species; in some respects like people across the world speaking different languages.  Several forms of communication exist which I will broadly introduce throughout the rest of this post.  These are; Vocalisation/ Verbal communication, body language and chemical/ olfactory communication which I imagine the majority of people know little to nothing about.  Alongside this is tactile communication which is where humans/ animals communicate through touch.

 

Most people associate the word communication purely with one type; speech or verbal communication.  Speech is a type of verbal communication used by humans. Whilst speech is widely used between people and towards animals, it plays only a minor role in how non-human animals communicate.

Communication is often similar between species but may be very different

People also use non-verbal communication such as body language.  Body language consists of changes in posture, actions and facial expression.  Most people are adept at reading basic facial expressions however those with neuro-developmental conditions such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder may struggle or unable to read them.

Most animals can read facial expressions amongst their own species but cannot read those of other species which can lead to issues including fighting if two different species are housed together; something still regularly occurring with rabbits and guinea pigs.  Facial expressions between species often do bear some resemblance (though can mean very different things at times) between different species as an artefact of our evolutionary history; as at one point was communicated by Charles Darwin.

The situation between the inability for animals to read the facial expressions of other species is a bit different between dogs and people though.  Our relationship with the domesticated dog and the time we spent together throughout domestication has uniquely lead to many dogs possessing the ability to read our, and especially their owners, facial expression and body language to some degree.  This is one factor leading to the so-called “guilty expressions” that dogs appear to show when they face their owners after performing an inappropriate behaviour (such as emptying the bin or chewing up the sofa); dog’s don’t possess the ability to feel guilt, they are, instead, just displaying this behaviour out of the expectation they are in trouble based upon past experience and their owners body language +/- tone of voice.

Selective breeding may have also lead to those with more traits for this recognition being bred more, thus passing it down to their offspring.  However, the connection between humans and dogs is a very unique one and this recognition of body language is not seen among different species to the same extent.

 

Vocalisation/ Verbal Communication

Though many non-human animals vocalise especially when communicating across long distances (such as warning the rest of their herd of predators), it is usually less commonly displayed than it is between people.

 

Wolves howl to vocally communicate with others

Vocal communication is often thought of as speech but it any noise leaving the mouth of an animal.  No animals have the same complexity to this communication as humans have, even primates, and whilst some parrots appear to talk, they purely mimic the people around them and don’t understand the sounds they produce.

Some animals, especially prey species, remain very quiet such as the rabbit, whereas others have noisy calls and cries such as the dog’s bark and the wolf’s howl (which remains in a few dog breeds).  Some animals have an array of different sounds such as guinea pigs who vocalise a lot with numerous different types.

Whilst other species appear to have developed new vocalisations during domestication.  Wildcats have been observed to purr but generally not to meow.  Meowing is believed to be a vocalisation pattern cats developed, through selective breeding and learning as a kitten, to attract the owner and get them to do what they want them to.  This adaptation demonstrates that an animal’s communication can diversify to meet the situation.

 

Body Language

The most common way animals communicate with both ourselves and others.

A snarl both makes a sound and changes the look of the face to pass a communicate unhappiness to those around

Poor communication or the presence of miscommunication (possibly due to the mixing of two or more species), may cause fights to break out.  Miscommunication is often seen between the animal kingdom and ourselves; chimps for instance, “smile” when afraid.  Humans view chimpanzees as being similar to themselves and see this behaviour as a human smile and believe they are happy when the opposite is true. What we think of as a smiling chimp is one displaying a fear grimace; the chimp is scared and they feel threatened by us smiling at them.

Lop-eared rabbits have reduced body language as they are not able to freely move their ears

Body language can be subtle with just hair standing on end (piloerection) occurring either just in a particular area or over the whole body, or the movement of some whiskers or be more obvious such as a snarling dog.  Whether subtle or more obvious, the animal may be trying to communicate something of true importance and so paying attention to any body language is very important.

 

Body language can also be miscommunicated between animals of the same species.  This may be the case if an animal is, for whatever reason, isn’t adept at interpreting body language such as if they have been isolated from those of their own species.  Another reason, which is seen with dogs in particular, could be from modifications to their body.  Dogs communicate with many different parts of their body, including the position or movement of their ears and tail.  If dogs have their tails docked and/ or their ears cropped the language they can display may be affected and therefore may be misinterpreted.  Those with very long hair may also struggle as the movement of particular parts of their body may not be easily visible to others.

This dog’s hair gets in the way of seeing subtle movements of much of the body and blocks their sight too

Chemical/ Olfactory Communication

Under all different circumstances, each individual cell releases chemicals/ compounds/ hormones to interact with the surrounding cells.  The surrounding cells receive these, often as a signal, allowing the body to react appropriately to the current scenario.

Cat demonstrating the flehman response whereby they ensure pheromones pass to the vomeronasal organ

Along with cells releasing chemicals to act upon other cells, certain areas of the body release chemical signals to send messages to the surrounding animals.

 

Some of these signals may be scents, such as urine helps mark out a territory in dogs due to other dogs smelling it.  Other signals released by one animal may affect other animals but do not a smell to them; these are known as pheromones.  Different pheromones affect animals in different ways. Some calm them down whilst others help them detect when a female animal is in season (“on heat”).

The flehman response of a horse allows them to detect pheromones

Pheromones are usually detected in an organ within the nose (the vomeronasal-organ) where signals are then sent to the brain.  Different animals get pheromones into their Vomeronasal organ through different methods; dogs flick their tongue against part of their mouth whereas others wrinkle their noses up and stretch their necks really long, lifting their heads and noses high in the air.  These are known as the Flehman response.

A tapir demonstrates their flehman response

There are also some chemical signals which are neither a scent or pheromone.  One of these includes a protein released in the milk called Alpha S1-Casein (or variants of that depending on the species).  This calms down infant animals after suckling.  A synthetic version (Alpha- Casazephine, derived from Alpha-S1 casein from cows milk) is now produced as a food supplement to reduce anxiety if used for several days.

 

Cats and dogs both release pheromones, the main ones being Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP), and the Feline Facial pheromones. These, amongst others, can help them to both create territories or calm them down which can then also be used synthetically to alter behaviour in different circumstances and are available in different forms.  These will be discussed more in-depth in another post.

Suckling animals receive compounds in their mother’s milk to calm them down

The Round Up.

This is just a basic introduction to the ways in which animals communicate and is nowhere near exhaustive.  This post is just to demonstrate how complex communication is and why it is difficult to completely follow and understand.

 

I will follow this up with further posts looking at different types of communication and how these are carried out in different animals.

Seven Common Hoof Problems in Horses

As the old adage goes, “No Foot, No Horse”.  Horses are heavy animals spending most of the time on their feet.  In fact, them lying down for long periods can cause potentially disastrous damage to their muscles.  Unlike smaller animals and people, the sheer weight of a horse means leg amputation would not help them so any foot problems cause huge issues.

 

So, what are the most common disorders of horse’s hooves.

Laminitis

This condition raises masses of fear in any horse owner.

The horse’s hoof has two layers of soft tissue between the hoof wall and the inner structures.  This structure is called the lamina.  The lamina holds the pedal bone in the foot to the inside of the hoof wall and stops it falling further down within the foot.

Laminitis is a swelling of this structure.  It is usually associated with lameness of the front legs but can affect just one foot both back feet or all four.  This is an incredibly painful condition and can either come on really quickly or much more slowly and be there most of the time.

Laminitis presents more commonly in overweight ponies and is associated with hormonal conditions such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome and Cushings Disease.  However, it is also common in horses worked on hard ground, eating large amounts of fresh lush grass or even those recently treated with steroids.

The symptoms of laminitis include some or all of the following;

  • Lameness.
  • heat in the feet.
  • A bounding digital pulse, ridges on the hoof.
  • bruising of the sole.
  • Lameness or stiffness.
  • Standing back on their feet.

Laminitis, in the most severe of cases, can lead to the pedal bone rotating and dropping lower into the foot which bruises and may even puncture the sole.  These cases can be easily picked on xrays or MRI scans.

If you believe your horse or pony has laminitis you should ring your vet straight away.

With laminitis, you vet will ultimately want to work with both you and your horse’s farrier to try and make sure the horse has several treatments.  In most cases the horses should be kept on a;

  • deep layer of bedding.
  • rested.
  • have specific shoes to take the weight off their painful toes (such as heartbar shoes).
  • be given anti-inflammatory medications.
  • medications to improve the blood flow to the laminae.

Though laminitis can sometimes lead to a horse being put to sleep, especially in the more severe cases, getting the best treatment regime for them as soon as possible can really make a big difference.

The pedal bone (the lowest bone in the picture) has rotated and has dropped through the sole
White Line Disease

White line disease is very common.  It is caused by the separation of the hoof wall at one of the deeper layers of the hoof which lacks pigment, hence the white.  This may occur anywhere on the hoof but appears more at either the heels and quarters (back and sides) of the hoof.

There’s a number of possible causes of White Line Disease.  This tends to first develop with changes in moisture where the structure of the foot may be weaker. The movement of the foot when it’s strength isn’t at its maximum, as well as potential nutritional problems or increased concussion, may lead to small cracks developing.  With the presence of small cracks, bacteria and fungi get into the hoof from the outside world into the deep layer of the hoof causing it to separate.  However, the cause is not always clear-cut.

White line disease can alter in severity from really minor cases whereby the horse remains sound and relatively unaffected to the more severe end of the spectrum with it affecting the structure of the lamina treading to pedal bone rotation.

Other signs include

  • a crumbly area around the edge of the hoof wall on the sole.
  • the foot being hot or tender.
  • their feet becoming flat.
  • their hoof becomes concave on one side whilst bulging on the other side.
  • The hoof wall then starts to chip.
  • Their hooves sound hollow when tapped.

White line Disease may be diagnosed by your farrier finding damage to the hoof, either at the surface or when trimming.  In more severe cases where lameness is present any rotation of the pedal bones may be found by X-rays similar to laminitis.

With treatment,

  1. Any separated hoof wall should be removed and further damaged areas on the surface being removed at 7-10day intervals until the healthy horn is reached.
  2. The actual original cause of the disorder should be found and resolved.
  3. Appropriate shoeing can remove pressure from damaged areas of the hoof, these shoes should be replaced at four weekly intervals.
  4. The application of iodine or similar topical medications to the area may treat the infection.
  5. Keeping the foot dry.
  6. Use supplements which aid hoof growth eg Biotin and Methione supplements.

One thing to avoid is the application of acrylic to seal the area. This will enclose infection in and worsen the problem.

Navicular Disease

Navicular disease is very common. It is the cause of up to a third of chronic cases of lameness affecting both front legs, especially in Thoroughbreds.

There are a number of causes of Navicular Disease.

  1. Some horses are born with a divided navicular bone increasing the risk of a fracture to the navicular bone; a bone just in the heel of the foot.
  2. Trauma due to “wear and tear”. The most likely focus of this damage is due to damage of the deep digital flexor tendon (a tendon running down the back of the heel and which also attaches to the navicular (and pedal) bone.
  3. A fracture of the navicular bone.
  4. Reduction of blood flow to the navicular bone.
  5. In a smaller number of cases, the cause may be an infection of the navicular bone or a fluid sac behind this.  These infections are often caused by nails puncturing the area, often near the frog (a soft structure of the sole) which can lead to permanent changes such as arthritis.

Navicular Disease is related to swelling of the tissues and new the development of bone in some areas of/around the navicular bone and the breakdown of other areas of bone.

Signs of Navicular Disease;

  • Walking with their toes hitting the ground first.
  • Leaning forward over their toes; the opposite to those with laminitis, taking the weight off their painful heels.  This may visible by their hooves being worn over the toes and not at the heel.
  • With severe cases, your horse may be very reluctant to put any weight down their heels.
  • A nerve block (where your vet injects local anaesthetic at different points in the leg. This causes specific areas to become numb and, if the affected area is numb they will no longer be lame) around the navicular bone.
  • XRays show changes to the navicular bone leaving the Navicular bone looking moth-eaten around the edges.

To treat navicular disease your vet needs to find the cause.

  • Any fractures need to be repaired, often with surgically placed screws.
  • Putting a camera (known as an arthroscope) into the back of their foot to view the structures around the navicular bone, cut away any unhealthy tissues and clean out the area.
  • Your vet may suggest you call your farrier to shoe your horse so their toe is shorter and their heel. This stops them putting pressure on their heels.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory Drugs such as Phenylbutazone (“Bute) or Meloxicam (Metacam) to reduce both the swelling and pain helping your horse be in less pain and be able to move easier.
  • In severe cases, surgery can be done to cut the nerves at the back of the foot. This doesn’t affect their walking as these nerves don’t control their muscles. It also only helps in the short term as, over time, the nerves will heal. This method works purely by numbing the area so your horse will no longer be in pain and will therefore no longer be in pain.

    Heartbar shoes can help with laminitis and cracked hooves
Foot Abscess

A foot abscess is a very common cause of sudden lameness at rest in horses.

As the horse suddenly becomes severely lame when they previously showed no lameness, many horse owners initially think their horse has damaged a tendon though this is not the case.

An abscess is a pocket of infection and pus.  As the hoof is very hard there is nowhere for this pus to be released so pressure builds up against sensitive structures of their foot such as the lamina.  Abscesses are very, very painful and often the horse won’t even put weight down their leg at all.

Usually, an area of the sole next to the abscess becomes soft which can be found and then removed by a farrier or vet, releasing the pus.  With the pus gone the pressure on the structures of the hoof reduces instantaneously and the pain drops rapidly with the horse no longer being quite as lame.

To help drain any extra pus from the foot and prevent further pus and infection developing there the foot is often bandaged with a poultice which actively draws any pus out of the foot. With training, most horse owners are able to apply bandages and poultices to their own horse’s feet, especially if they are quiet.

Bruising

Horses feet, like ours or those of other animals, can become bruised.  A bruise on a horses foot looks very similar to bruises we may get.

These develop for a number of reasons;

  • Having stones stuck in the foot or walking on stony ground.
  • The rotation and dropping of the pedal bone in laminitis, especially if the pedal bone has rotated and is dropping
  • Abscesses.
  • Poor feet trimming.

Nothing consistently speeds up the healing of bruises but your horse should not be worked when they have these as they do cause some pain.  Providing your horse with a thick soft bed will also help through the cushioning reducing the pressure on their feet.

Cracked Hooves

Several things can cause hooves to become cracked.

If the hoof becomes cracked, either side of the crack move as the horse is walking and weight-bearing.  This constant movement puts pressure on the lamina and tears it.  As the lamina is the only structure within the hoof holding the pedal bone against gravity, the tendency is for the pedal bone to rotate and drop if not careful.  Other risks are that infection enters the crack leading to a foot abscess or even, more dangerously, the pedal bone becomes infected which, if happens, will require surgery.

Cracks have various causes.  The vertical cracks start either at the top or bottom of the hoof and are known as sand and grass cracks respectively.

Sand cracks are commonly caused by the hooves being overgrown.  The overgrowth places pressure on the front of the coronary band (the area where the hoof grows from) which contains lots of small tubes for supplying nutrients to each tiny section of the hoof.  As pressure is placed on the papilla they become blocked and, after a short period of time, the new horn growing in that area dies from a lack of nutrition.  As a result, a gap develops in the growing hood, creating a crack.

Cracks starting at the bottom of the hooves, however, result from a horses foot not being correctly balanced.  Horses should walk with either side of their foot hitting the ground at the same time and the heel hitting slightly before the toe.  If the horses walk isn’t balanced, some areas of hoof are worn more than they should be and other areas not worn enough.  A crack will develop if the hoof isn’t trimmed down to correct this difference.  Sometimes cracks can start in the middle.  This isn’t seen as much as it used to be and was caused by carriage horses stepping n the hoof of the one next to them.

If cracks develop you should contact your vet, especially if they are more than superficial.

These may have foreign bodies in them that must be identified by xray before removal.  Without these procedures the likelihood of foot abscess and infection of the bone (osteitis) is greatly increased.

A good farrier should be able to reduce the size of the crack however, in severe cases, they cannot fully immobilise them.

Grass cracks can sometimes be removed mostly through trimming of the hoof.  As well as this trimming of the hoof should be used as a method of altering how the hoof hits the ground the balance the foot and reduce the pressure on the crack to allow it to heal.

Finally, glues and staples can be used in the centre of cracks as well as heartbar shoes to help to stabilise the hoof wall.  Over time, the cracks grow out as the foot grows down.  The exception to that is with severe defects or those fully splitting the coronary band whereby a gap may always be present in the growing hoof.

Picking out a horses hooves is a very important part of their care
Thrush

Thrush is a fungal infection of the sole.  It creates a foul odor and black discharge often around the frog.

Thrush may develop due to a lack of hygiene and can also be aided by the improvement of that.

To prevent Thrush developing, your horse’s feet should be picked at least once daily with a hoof pick and cleaned if they are muddy.

Thrush is treated by adhering to strict hygiene regimes and, if needed, you can buy Thrush treatments.

Thrush usually doesn’t cause pain or inflammation so it doesn’t usually cause them to become lame, however, over time it can damage the soft structures of the sole.

End Note

So some of the main problems affecting the hooves of horses and other equids (such as donkeys or zebra) are laminitis, abscesses, navicular disease, thrush, cracks, bruises and white line disease.  These can all be of varying severities and often can be interlinked ie navicular disease can be due to a bone infection which could lead to an abscess or bruises can be as a result of laminitis.

To find out about my connection with horses then read my introductory blog.  Also if you want to discuss anything here in more detail then leave a comment below or contact me directly.  Finally, if you found this job informative/ interesting then please subscribe; enter your email in the box in the right sidebar.

Article 13, Brexit and Animals as Sentient Beings

On 15th November, MPs in the Houses of Commons voted against (313 against vs. 295 for its inclusion) an amendment clause (NC30) which aimed to aid animal welfare post-Brexit.  This clause would’ve meant that Article 13 of the Title II of the Lisbon Treaty, an article about animal sentience and welfare, was introduced into UK law.  The rejection of the clause lead to a backlash towards the government with headlines suggesting MPs don’t believe that animals are sentient beings.  The reports regarding the rejection of the amendment sent shockwaves across both the animal industry and social media.  But what does this all mean, what is a “sentient being” and are UK laws revolving animal welfare going to be substantial post-brexit?

 

What is a Sentient Being?

The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of Sentient is [to be] “Able to perceive or feel things”.  So a sentient being is one which can perceive or feel what is occurring to or around them and so they can experience pain and suffering.  A long-held belief by most in the UK is that vertebrate animals are sentient beings (with an increasing belief that invertebrates are also sentient) just like humans.  The belief that animals are able to suffer was noted by the Brambell Report investigating the welfare of intensely farmed livestock and commissioned by the UK government in 1965. The Brambell Report is still a cornerstone of animal welfare as it lead to the Five Freedoms still used by animal organisations today.

The Five Freedoms

The Five Freedoms state the following;

  • Freedom From Hunger and Thirst,
  • Freedom From Discomfort,
  • Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease,
  • Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour, and,
  • Freedom from Fear and Distress.

The Five Freedoms make up the basic guidelines for the care of domesticated animals in the UK and is what the Animal Welfare Act, 2006, is based upon.

 

So What is Article 13?

Prior to the introduction of Article 13 in 2009, animals being shipped only had the same status as other goods.  By this point the UK government was well aware of animals being sentient and able to suffer so, after much pressure from the UK and other member states,  Article 13 was added to the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.  Article 13, which followed on from several non-legal treaties, and stated that all member states had to “pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals”.  The article expresses that wild and owned animals must be cared for in a way which doesn’t cause suffering. Article 13, however, does have its flaws, namely towards activities “relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage” whereby animal welfare may not be paid full regards.  One example of these limitations to the article is that in specific regions of Spain and France Bull-fighting occurs due to a cultural tradition.  This tradition is still allowed under the article regardless of the very poor levels of welfare the bulls face.  Article 13 also protects the practice of non-stun religious slaughter in specific groups such as Halal slaughter for Muslims and Shechita slaughter for Jews which both create animal welfare concerns.

So why couldn’t Article 13 Just Be Transferred into UK Law?

Article 13 contains the phrase “since animals are sentient beings” which, whilst believed to be true by many, isn’t accepted by every organisation throughout the UK so cannot currently be placed as fact, despite masses of evidence surrounding it.  Until the whole of the UK  believe this to be fact, the wording cannot be transferred straight into UK Law.  Also, article 13 reads that member states should “pay full regard to the welfare of animals”.  In the UK the wording “full regard” brings further legal concerns as if this were placed straight into UK law it would be at odds with other laws such as The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986.  Animals used in research covered by The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986, may experience periods of low welfare even when treated as laid out in the licence.  As these animals can legally be exposed to poor welfare this would be at odds with a law stating that full regard should be paid to animal welfare and so the two laws don’t function well together.

 

Why Does the UK Need a Law Like Article 13 Post-Brexit?

The UK’s standard of Animal Welfare is regarded to be amongst the highest in the world. Law’s such as the Animal Welfare Act 2006 in England and Wales (with equivalents in Scotland and Northern Ireland) ensures welfare remains above defined levels.  The UK also has a more stringent law around Animal testing (The Animals’ (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986) than the USA has. Why, therefore, does the UK need more animal welfare-related laws?

The current UK animal laws cover only domesticated animals owned by people (whether as pets, farm animals or research animals).  Wild animals are often non-domesticated and aren’t owned by anyone and so are not currently protected by UK law but are, instead, covered by the aforementioned EU law.  On leaving the EU, if the parts of Article 13 revolving wild animals do not become part of UK law, then UK wild animals will no longer be legally protected.

So do MPs Voting Down NC30 deny that Animals are Sentient?

Following on from 15th November where 313 (a majority of eighteen) MPs voted against NC30,  a lot of newspaper headlines and social media posts claimed the MPs voting against NC30 deny that animals are sentient beings.  There were campaigns against individual MPs voting against the amendment, some of which contrasted their vote against the notion with previous posts they’d made about their pets suffering.  People were confused and believed all the MPs voting against the amendment believe that animals do not have feelings and/ or are incapable of suffering.  Whilst this may be the case with some politicians it’s unlikely to be the case with all and posts MPs said over the coming days highlighted they believe animals are sentient.

 

So Why Did NC30 Get Voted Out?

After an eight hours debate a large number of reasons for and against the amendment were likely brought up.  There’s a high chance some MPs believed that the current UK legislation goes far enough.  This may be due to them not realising UK legislation doesn’t cover all animals leaving a large hole surrounding wildlife won leaving the EU.

 

Secondly, it may be because Article 13 doesn’t have the scope that’s needed in today’s world.  For instance, puppies are smuggled or brought into the UK legally from across the EU to sell to unsuspecting people, often via the internet.  The welfare of such animals is not currently protected in UK law and Article 13 doesn’t cover this huge welfare issue.  On top of this Article 13 doesn’t prevent religious non-stun slaughter or low welfare standards caused by cultural practices with animals in specific regions such as bull-fighting.  Maybe NC30 was voted down because it simply doesn’t go far enough and thus a majority government want to create a law which encompasses more than this.  I am sceptical of this optimistic approach as nothing was stopping MPs voting for NC30 but on the notion that it will be added to before becoming UK law.

 

It could also be due to the wording of the EU Articles compared to that of a UK law in that it was easier to restart the whole rule.  Saying that, if they were going to reject this amendment purely due to wording then surely they’d be doing this to all amendments passing from EU to UK law and not just this one.  Whilst the grammar around the suggestion that animals are sentient isn’t how it’d be mentioned in a UK law (as mentioned earlier), I don’t think they’d reject an amendment purely on that basis.

 

Finally, there may be something more of an unpleasant agenda for animal welfare on the way.  Pst-Brexit, the UK have to trade with countries outside of the EU for all goods. One major way the UK government is looking at reaching the demands for food is by buying products from animals produced in the USA.  The USA is economically greater than the UK and are able to produce vast amounts of food and will have no problems meeting the UK’s food deficit once we leave the single market.  The USA, however, often farm animals in a lower welfare state than the EU/ UK.  The cattle are raised on food lots with much higher stocking densities than beef farms here.  If the UK government introduce a law similar to article 30 then it may be illegal to purchase produce raised in the USA which is both cheaper and more readily available than what many other countries can supply.  It may simply be that the UK government are focussing more on the economics of feeding a growing population than animal welfare.  Though I understand that economically this may make sense it does mean a big U-turn in the outward stance the UK has given towards animal welfare to the global population. If the UK government allows lower welfare produce to be bought from the USA due to economic reasons it will cause great suffering to a growing population of animals across the world which is ethically and morally wrong.  This will affect the whole world given the supposed world leaders in welfare are at the helm of this economically driven decision and thus aren’t being the role model for welfare standards that they should be.

Sheep Dog

What’s Occurred Since the Vote?

The British Veterinary Association created an open letter which was signed by 1,194 veterinary surgeons (including myself), nurses and students and published in The Daily Telegraph on 28th November which gained the recognition of other newspapers and MPs.  A high-profile politician,  Micheal Gove MP, Secretary of State for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs replied to this letter.  Mr Gove stated that the sentience of animals is not under question, that MPs believe animals are definitely sentient and that regardless of NC30 being voted against (mirroring his vote), he will ensure that the sentience of animals is enshrined into UK law.

 

Though last month’s vote against the addition of Article 13 into UK law has the potential to reduce welfare across animals being traded with the UK, IF a new law equals Article 13 the welfare of animals in the UK should be protected post-Brexit.  Some of the headlines were misleading regarding the vote in that it wasn’t purely a vote against the notion of animal sentience but both the headlines and the vote will have damaged the UK’s reputation as a world leader for animal welfare.  Currently laws are introduced into the UK to protect animal welfare such as the presence of CCTV filming in abattoirs, an outcome of high profile campaigns.  Laws such as the presence of CCTV show that the government has at least some level of commitment towards animal welfare and that they at least reduce suffering in animal’s awaiting slaughter.

A Sudden U-Turn and Bold Statement for UK animal welfare.

At the time of writing, the government have just announced a draft Animal Welfare Bill stating the government “must have regard to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings in formulating and implementing government policy”.

So, what lead to this U-turn, within a month MPs have gone from rejecting the NC30 amendment to UK law to creating a draft bill which states that animals are sentient beings.  Note, however, this doesn’t state “full regard” as article 13 does suggesting that they may not be held as accountable for all impingements in welfare; potentially the importation of meat from reduced welfare states?  Though I don’t know most of the details of this draft bill it does sound like it is very extensive.  One of the main cornerstones of its proposals is a rise in the maximum jail sentence for animal cruelty from a mere six months to five years. This increased sentence is something which has been fought for before and lost but it being in the proposed bill itself is a huge statement towards animal welfare.

 

It looks like the pressure placed on the government through media campaigns, petitions and open letters may have won!  We can only hope this draft bill gets passed.

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