Reducing or preventing the incidence of animal pain or distress and promoting animal well-being (and even pleasure) are overall goals of animal welfare. These goals pertain to animals on farms or in laboratories as well as companion animals. Aversive handling, even if infrequent, has stressful consequences for pigs and other farm animals, with resulting adverse effects on reproduction and development. Aversive handling has similar effects on animals in other settings. Veterinarians are often the first contacts when someone seeks help for animals being badly treated or receiving inadequate care.
Intentional, deliberate abuse of animals is an extreme marker of a likely pattern of abuse elsewhere within a family. Veterinarians who report suspected animal abuse sometimes can avert similar abuse of other vulnerable family members, especially children or the elderly. Two studies reported that >90% of veterinarians would report cases of suspected animal abuse to authorities. A majority agreed that animal abuse in families would tend to be linked with child or elder abuse.
Although sometimes seen by veterinarians, abuse appears less common than the neglect, poor husbandry, or lack of essential medical care of animals, some of which may be inadvertent. A more serious problem occurs with animal hoarders who may be mentally ill. Some communities routinely combine efforts of animal control and mental health agencies when dealing with such cases. The person, perhaps without awareness, acquires more animals than they can care for properly.
A major, widespread societal problem of animal welfare is the abandoning and killing of companion animals. While the incidence of animal relinquishment has decreased somewhat, the problem is still widespread. Behavioral problems of animals and owners' lack of knowledge increase the likelihood of relinquishment. Veterinary teams can provide leadership and education about more realistic expectations of companion animals, and can encourage earlier intervention if problems arise.
Last full review/revision March 2012 by Lynette A. Hart, PhD