Sharing your life with a companion animal often leads to a very rewarding and deeply meaningful relationship. They bring an immense amount of joy into our lives and provide comfort on the bad days. Seeing their cute fluffy faces in pet shop windows can spark an impulse to bring one of these companions into your life, but sadly, these friendships do not always work out. Every year, hundreds of thousands of dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, fish, and other companion animals are mistreated or abandoned because of a lack of knowledge on proper care or a mismatch in lifestyles. As a result, approximately 250,000 individuals are euthanised because of an inability to find a second home.
This article explores the main animal welfare issues of the pet industry.
Dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, birds, and fish are all part of the pet industry. While most of us become upset at the thought of mistreating these beloved animals, it is inevitable in the way the industry is currently operating. This summary focuses on the Australian industry.
There are approximately 4.8 million dogs in Australia .
Every year, thousands of dogs are brought into this world in the hope of making a profit. Dogs who are exploited for intensive breeding live in factories – similar to that of intensive animal agriculture factories for egg-laying hens, pigs. Puppy Factories can be small, medium, or large scale and they can be “legal” and “illegal” . For the individual dogs, the size and scale doesn’t matter, all are suffering because they can feel fear, pain, and despair. The breeder dogs are treated as commodities, units of production, expendable and replaceable at any time. The females are repeatedly impregnated and her babies are taken away, sold for a profit .
The conditions are almost always appalling with confinement in often filthy, unhygienic, and overcrowded pens. This includes cages where dogs are often permanently confined. They don’t enjoy walks, are denied enrichment, and the ability to play or express their normal behaviours. They are denied love, companionship, and many suffer through extremes of temperature in winter and summer often without bedding or even beds .
Health care and wellbeing
Numerous puppy farm raids have found the dogs suffering from a range of serious and painful health problems, as well as parasitic infections . Dogs and puppies who were born on a puppy farm are known to suffer from behavioural issues as a result of not being socialised and being housed in conditions that fail to meet even their basic needs .
Pedigree breeding has resulted in narrowing the gene pool of many species, caused by a desire for certain looks. This has led to serious health problems in a number of species. Common problems include breathing issues, heart disease, eye issues (such as eye-popping), allergies, infections, hip and elbow dysplasia in large dogs, premature deaths, and even an inability to give birth naturally in Bulldogs .
Crossbreeding two breeds of dogs often means the females have to be artificially inseminated. This involves collecting sperm from the male and manually inserting a semen straw into the female – the female is then held for 5-10 minutes . Crossbreeding does not eliminate the issues of pedigree breeding. It also means that the temperament, size, and behaviour of the dog is unknown, as it is a combination of the two.
There are approximately 3.9 million companion cats in Australia .
Kitten farms do exist in Australia, however, they operate under secrecy and it is unknown how many there are or where they are located. The likelihood is that the cats are forced to live in conditions like that of puppy farms – confined to cages, undergo repeated pregnancies, have their babies removed after just 8 weeks, receive minimal (if any) health checks, and are never played with or experience love.
There are approximately 4.2 million birds in homes across Australia .
Breeder birds are commonly kept in cages, which cause an immense amount of suffering. The cages restrict movement, exercise, and flying. Many are kept in overcrowded conditions, unable to escape from the other birds. They are unable to experience changes in the sunshine, rain, and temperature, which is essential for their hygiene and health.
Importation of birds
Thankfully, it has been illegal to import live psittacine birds into Australia since 1995. The government placed a ban on the industry due to concerns about diseases.
Issues among all species
Backyard Breeding, Accidental Litters, and Desexing
Backyard breeding is when a companion animal falls pregnant either “accidentally” or on purpose when the person is not registered to breed. It contributes to the problem of an oversupply of animals, in particular dogs and cats. It also often means that the babies are sold online and there is little to no information or checks on the buyer. Those who aren’t sold are often given to shelters or pounds, resulting in older dogs being euthanised as the younger animals generally find homes first .
Desexing is especially important for rural dogs and free-roaming cats, as they can mate with wild counterparts, such as dingos and stray cats. This is why Animal Liberation advocates for mandatory desexing, which also improves the health and wellbeing of the animal long term!
Currently, pet shops support the heartbreaking breeding of companion animals, as they are constantly filling the windows with cute baby animals, and allow people to buy them on the spot . Thankfully, more and more pet shops are opting to display only rescue animals, giving them a second chance at life.
Abandonment, Shelters, and Pounds
Pounds and shelters are overflowing with unwanted and abandoned animals. Animals are left at shelters and pounds for a number of reasons, some of which include: purchasing the animal on impulse or giving them as gifts, failure to consider the responsibilities that come with having a companion animal, a lack of time, no longer suit their lifestyle, an inability to afford the animal, a change in living situations, and sadly, the carer may have died . Australia currently lacks a recording system to monitor the exact number of animals killed each year. Death Row Pets estimates that 250,000 healthy dogs and cats are euthanised every year . This figure excludes the other companion animals, such as rabbits, birds, hamsters, guinea pigs, and fish who are also killed.
Workers in shelters and pounds across Australia are suffering as a result of using euthanasia to manage animal overpopulation. Studies from across the globe have found that workers are suffering from trauma, resulting in health issues, emotional stress, fatigue, burnout, and even suicide . The industry has a high staff turnover rate, and it has financial, moral and ethical ramifications for communities [11 PDF].
What can you do?
Despite the growing knowledge of the pet industry, many people are still supporting the breeding cycle by purchasing animals from pet shops or directly from breeders. It is important for you as a consumer to not be part of the breeding cycle and to support groups like Animal Liberation, who are advocating for mandatory desexing and the promotion of adoption over purchasing animals.
If you are wanting to bring a companion animal into your life, we recommend reading our article “Adopting an Animal”, to make sure you are ready for the life-long commitment!