Position Statement on Companion Animal Confinement - BC SPCA
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Position Statement on Companion Animal Confinement

The BC SPCA is opposed to confinement practices that are likely to diminish the welfare of companion animals. Individuals who house and care for companion animals, even temporarily, should provide for the Five Freedoms and maintain animal welfare standards that are transparent and current with existing scientific research and legislated standards.

These principles apply to animal guardians, as well as all animal-related businesses, including grooming salons, commercial dog walking operations, pet stores, daycares, veterinary clinics, breeder operations and other animal service providers.

Approved by the Board of Directors – February 2018


Companion animals must sometimes be temporarily housed in spaces that are different from and more confining than their usual housing, such as on airplanes, in boarding facilities, or in the case of emergency response. Confinement in too small a space for too long a period can deprive animals of the regular opportunity to meet their basic psychological and physical needs. If these needs are not met, companion animals may develop abnormal behaviours that are indicative of reduced welfare – stereotypic behaviour or injurious behaviour such as self-mutilation, for example. They may also be at risk for injuries such as intestinal obstruction.

However, individuals and businesses who confine animals must still aim to provide the best possible welfare for the individual animal. Decisions about when, where and for how long to confine an animal must consider the species’ biological needs and the needs of the individual animal, such as:

  • environmental needs (e.g., a clean space with an appropriate temperature);
  • physiological needs (e.g., access to food and water, the need to stretch out and sleep, access to space to defecate and urinate away from sleeping area);
  • behavioural needs (e.g., motivation to play or burrow, social interaction);
  • how well the individual animal tolerates stress.

Appropriate confinement housing also considers the impact of weather, temperature, noise, light, odours, visual stimulation and space. Additionally, animals experience better welfare when appropriately separated by health status, age, sex, species, temperament and predator-prey status.

Confining some species, such as dogs and cats, to a cage for travel or daily use beyond the time they are capable of coping can result in a fear of the cage. For any animal, including those such as rabbits and rodents who are routinely kept in cages, using too small a space for long-term housing deprives them of exercise and social interaction. This can lead to anxiety, boredom, frustration or depression. Where long-term cage confinement is used for health or safety reasons, animals will require increased attention to basic species’ needs through provision of safe out-of-cage time and/or additional enrichment items/activities.

Some examples of confinement practices that result in poor welfare include:

  • Animals housed in pet stores during their critical period of development without adequate socialization are at risk of being unable to cope with social and novel situations later in their lives. Research has shown that puppies obtained from pet stores demonstrate more aggression, fear, separation anxiety, and inappropriate urination and defecation .
  • In pet stores, daycares, grooming salons, veterinary clinics, kennels and cattery facilities or any other animal holding area, overcrowding can lead to the spread of disease and increased aggression; unsanitary conditions can cause a decline of health; and lengthy confinement can result in forced urination and defecation in sleeping areas. Stress can be induced from housing predatory and prey species within sight, smell or hearing range of each other, as well as from displaying animals to the public without providing them a way to hide or move away from unwanted physical or visual contact.
  • In daycares, dog walking businesses, veterinary clinics and kennel or cattery facilities, confinement may force unfamiliar animals to share space without adequate introductions or assessments for individual needs and compatibility.
  • In grooming salons, using a cage dryer without continuous monitoring of the animal’s well-being and temperature of the cage area can lead to heatstroke and death.
  • In veterinary clinics, exam rooms shared and not cleaned between animals can lead to stress, as can animals observing or hearing other animals undergoing stressful procedures.

Background updated – February 2018

See also:
Animal Training
Cat Welfare
Companion Animal Welfare
Companion Animal Handling and Restraint
Dog Welfare


Canadian Standards of Care in Animal Shelters: Supporting ASV Guidelines 2013 https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/canadian-standards-of-care-in-animal-shelters


Cage: Enclosure which keeps an animal in confinement.

Cattery: A boarding or breeding establishment for cats.

Companion animals: Domesticated animals who have been selectively bred to live and thrive in mutually beneficial relationships with humans and who are kept primarily for the purpose of companionship.

Confinement: Restricting an animal’s freedom of movement. This may include temporary, short-term, or long-term confinement for the purposes of transport, housing, or procedures (e.g. veterinary or grooming procedures).

Distress: A severe negative affective state caused by physical and/or psychological factors. Physical distress may arise when an animal is hungry, thirsty, too hot, too cold, diseased, injured or in pain to an elevated degree. Psychological distress may arise when an animal experiences fear, anxiety, frustration or depression to an elevated degree.

When used in a legal context¹ by animal protection officers and veterinarians:

“An animal is in distress if it is
(a) deprived of adequate food, water, shelter, ventilation, light, space, exercise, care or veterinary treatment,
(a.1) kept in conditions that are unsanitary
(a.2) not protected from excessive heat or cold,
(b) injured, sick, in pain or suffering, or
(c) abused or neglected.”

¹ Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act [RSBC 1996] CHAPTER 372 (Section 12:1)

Housing: Dwelling place of an animal.

Five Freedoms: A concept first developed in 1965 by The Brambell Committee, formed by the UK government to examine the conditions on commercial farms. Now internationally recognized, the Five Freedoms are considered applicable to all animals. The BC SPCA’s Five Freedoms (adapted from the original list) are:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst;
  2. Freedom from pain, injury and disease;
  3. Freedom from distress;
  4. Freedom from discomfort;
  5. Freedom to express behaviours that promote well-being.

Stereotypy: Behaviour patterns that are repetitive, unvarying and have no obvious goal or function. Stereotypies are considered abnormal behaviours, and are usually indicative of stress. Note that while some authors hypothesize that stereotypies are a coping mechanism for an animal to reduce his/her stress in a poor environment, they are also a sign of severely impaired welfare.

Stress: The physiological response to a stimulus in order to help an animal cope with his/her environment. The stress response can be associated with either positive emotions (e.g., excitement, arousal) or negative emotions (e.g., anxiety, frustration), depending upon the nature of the stimulus or the animal’s perception of that stimulus. Chronic stress is detrimental to an animal’s health and welfare.