The dilemma in the September issue concerned the welfare of horses belonging to a breeder and long-standing client of a practice. On several occasions a vet had noticed problems with the animals' living quarters, such as makeshift pens that were rarely cleaned out and outdoor areas that were muddy and full of manure. Not only did the owner not seem to take on any of the vet's advice, but the concerns were also largely ignored back at the practice (In Practice, September 2013, volume 35, pages 486-487). Kathryn Henderson suggested that the first thing for the vet to do could be to organise a formal meeting with the practice boss, as engaging the breeder without support would be difficult. She also commented that the best way forward might be for the vet to try to educate the client on good husbandry and hygiene. This could be framed as a ‘new free-of-charge practice initiative’ to improve herd health and could stress the effects of poor management on profitability.
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Siobhan Mullan is a research fellow at the University of Bristol with interests in practical welfare assessment and animal ethics. She holds the RCVS diploma in animal welfare science, ethics and law.
THIS case was particularly complicated by the apparent contradiction between the poor level of inputs reported, the limited space and filthy conditions, and the surprisingly good level of outcomes observed, as horses were in good body condition and without the expected foot problems – at least for the time being.
The link between an animal's inputs, those things that can affect their welfare (ie, their environment, the care provided to them by stockmen and vets, their breed or individual characteristics) and welfare outcomes, the expression of that animal's welfare (which can be observed through health and behavioural observations over the short-term or long-term), is becoming clearer as scientific studies have validated more ways of accurately observing welfare outcomes and of identifying risk factors for those outcomes.
It is becoming more common to use formal assessments of welfare outcomes, through direct observation of the animals, to support judgements about the suitability of some input-based requirements. For example, in farm assurance schemes such as the dairy and pig Red Tractor schemes. Likewise, protocols have been developed for assessing equine welfare, including some aimed for use by field staff of animal welfare organisations when encountering similar difficult situations. Vets in practice may also find it helpful in a case like this to employ a formal system of observation of the animals, including signs of both physical health and behaviour to aid their decision-making.
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