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Position Statement on Companion Animal Handling and Restraint

The BC SPCA is opposed to handling and restraint practices that result in injury or additional fear.

Individuals who handle or restrain companion animals should provide for the Five Freedoms and maintain welfare standards that are transparent and current with existing scientific research.

The method of handling or restraint used should:

  • be the least physical and most effective method available;
  • be applied for the minimum amount of time necessary (i.e. only the amount of time needed to perform a specific procedure);
  • minimize fear, pain, stress and suffering for the animal; and
  • protect both the animal and handler from injury.

This position statement applies to animal guardians and all animal-related businesses, including grooming salons, commercial dog walking operations, pet stores, daycares, veterinary clinics and boarding and breeding operations.

Approved by the Board of Directors – February 2018

Background

Handling and restraint cause stress to animals. Excessive and/or lengthy restriction of movement can quickly change an animal’s experience of stress into distress. An animal may continue to be in distress even if they appear to recover rapidly after the handling episode has ended. If routine handling procedures are aversive, animals are likely to develop anxiety and show exaggerated stress responses when approached for handling again.

Handling and restraint will affect individual companion animals differently. The following considerations will assist in minimizing stress to the individual:

  • Weigh the long-term benefits against the short-term use of restraint.
  • Select a handling method suitable to the species and individual animal.
  • Observe the animal’s response to determine the level of stress or distress they are experiencing.
  • Maintain a calm, quiet, confident presence and caring attitude.
  • Seek training for methods of restraint that can minimize stress, including positive reinforcement and reward-based training techniques. In some situations, chemical restraint may be preferred or required as administered or prescribed by a veterinarian.

Animals can be harmed when individuals who handle or restrain animals are not:

  • trained in proper techniques in order to know how much restraint is necessary;
  • in full control of their emotions; or
  • feeling empathy for the animal.

To prevent harm to animals, businesses that offer services which involve handling or restraint should ensure that all staff receive adequate and ongoing training in animal handling and behaviour with a focus on minimizing the use of physical restraint. When restraint is necessary, it should be planned and communicated to all involved prior to use. Excellent resources for restraint and handling include the Low Stress Handling and Fear Free certification programs. Some examples of animal handling and restraint practices that result in poor welfare include:

  • Rapid, forced handling of animals without allowing them to become acclimatized to an exam room, a grooming space and/or a practitioner.
  • Use of devices such as choke chains, prong collars and electric shock collars
  • Inappropriate use of devices such as muzzles to prevent barking or aggression (i.e., when continued exposure to the trigger is present).
  • Transporting animals without appropriate restraint or in unsuitable enclosures.
  • In pet stores, handling that prevents an animal from hiding or moving away from the contact.
  • Unsupervised handling of animals by young children.
  • In dog walking operations and daycares, forcing unfamiliar dogs to share space and/or leashes without adequate introductions or assessments for individual needs and compatibility.
  • In grooming salons, using restraint devices that choke the animal, using force to intimidate the animal into compliance.
  • Any restraint for procedures that offer no benefit to the animal, cause stress to the animal or cannot be performed properly under physical restraint alone (e.g. anesthesia-free pet dentistry, shaving double coated dogs or plucking ear hair).
  • In veterinary practices, prolonged forced restraint when an animal is fearful, resistant or undergoing a painful procedure.
  • Scruffing cats or turning rabbits on their backs (called ‘hypnosis,’ ‘trancing’ or ‘tonic immobility’) for purposes of restraint.

Background updated – February 2018

See also:
Animal training
Cat Welfare
Companion Animal Welfare
Companion Animal Confinement
Cosmetic and Other Non-therapeutic Alterations
Dog Welfare

Definitions

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.

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, depression or anger 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)

Handling: The manner of treating or dealing with an animal in order to interact or control his/her actions. Handling can include physical contact and sound, visual and scent signals.

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.

Restraint: The use of manual or mechanical means to limit some or all of an animal’s normal voluntary movement.

Scruffing: Picking up or physically restraining an animal by their neck skin.

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.