Development and evaluation of a canine and feline welfare assessment tool for use in companion animal veterinary clinics

Dawson, Lauren
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University of Guelph

This thesis was conducted to investigate canine and feline welfare in relation to veterinary care through the development and evaluation of a welfare assessment tool for veterinary clinics. Through a multi-stage survey, 78 animal welfare researchers, veterinarians with an expertise in animal welfare, and practicing veterinarians identified 85 veterinary care-related factors thought to impact companion animal welfare in the clinic and home environments. Factors with the highest perceived relative impact on welfare included veterinary-client communication of welfare-related information, analgesic regimes, and the ability to recognize and interpret patient behaviour. These results served as the basis for an animal welfare assessment tool, incorporating management- and resource-based measures of animal welfare that were assessed via questionnaires, interviews with veterinarians, and veterinary appointment observation through video recording. This tool was evaluated for reliability, validity and feasibility in 30 companion and mixed animal veterinary clinics in southern Ontario. Inter-observer reliability (two trained, inexperienced observers vs. one experienced observer) was highest for interviews (Kw = 0.40, 0.44 for aspects of communication; Kw = 0.83, 0.73 for pain management, Kw = 0.82, 0.81 for behavioural health). Intra-observer reliability (one experienced observer only) was high across all three assessment methods (Kw ≥ 0.80 for communication, pain management and behavioural health). Due to their ease of use, questionnaires and interviews had high feasibility for use in a welfare assessment tool; however, discrepancies between responses given through questionnaires and interviews and data from appointment observation suggest that they have lower validity as a method for accurately assessing welfare-related veterinary practices. Results also provide insight into current veterinary practices related to animal welfare. Other than veterinary preventive care, veterinary staff engaged in low levels of proactive discussion of a number of important welfare-related topics, highlighting a missed opportunity for client education. Veterinary clinics consistently provided pre-emptive and post-surgical analgesia for ovariohysterectomies; however, many underused objective pain identification tools and provided owners with a shorter-than-recommended duration of analgesia post-ovariohysterectomy. Veterinary staff often approached and examined patients in a non-threatening manner, but generally underused low-stress handling techniques. There is, therefore, opportunity for enhancement in welfare-related practices across many areas.

Animal welfare, Welfare assessment, Companion animal welfare, Veterinary clinic, Dog, Cat