Pandemic puppies study among research projects awarded funding by AWF - Veterinary Practice
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Pandemic puppies study among research projects awarded funding by AWF

AWF gave five researchers between £8,000 and £11,000 for their planned work which included two projects exploring how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the welfare of UK’s dogs

A look at the behaviour and motives behind why so many people have bought puppies during the COVID-19 UK lockdown is one of five desk-based research projects awarded a grant from the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF), this month.

AWF gave five researchers between £8,000 and £11,000 for their planned work which included two projects exploring how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the health and welfare of our nation’s dogs, two projects on delayed euthanasia and one on the welfare impacts of different rat control methods.

Conducted by Dr Rowena Packer, a Lecturer in Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare Science at the Royal Veterinary College, the “pandemic puppies” project will be looking at the recent increase in puppy sales: who bought them, why and how puppies were purchased during UK lockdown (March-June 2020). It is hoped that the data will inform future educational messaging.

AWF received 38 submissions this year for the funding it offers annually to researchers who want to conduct animal welfare-based projects. This year, AWF asked applicants to base their ideas around the animal welfare priorities informed by a recent Delphi Study into priority animal welfare concerns.

Commenting on the chosen projects, AWF Chair Chris Laurence said:

“We received an excellent response to our call for desk-based research and were impressed with many of the projects that were submitted. Choosing the highest quality and most relevant submissions was a difficult task for the charity but the guidance from our Delphi prioritisation project was of considerable help.

“The high number of puppies acquired from a wide variety of sources during the pandemic has been a major concern as they may have been bred and reared in unusual circumstances or have been imported from overseas. The lack of puppies’ socialisation may have lifelong effects on their behaviour and temperament making them more likely to need behaviour help and at greater risk of relinquishment later in life. Many purchasers who bought their puppy without adequate research may regret doing so later when they return to work or the economic effects begin to affect their finances. To be prepared for the potential consequences we need to better understand what has occurred and how the consequences can be mitigated by advice and training to puppy owners.”

Dr Rowena Packer said:

“The COVID pandemic has been the ‘perfect storm’ for a canine welfare crisis. My team’s previous research identified that puppy buying behaviour was already sub-optimal in the UK prior to the pandemic; for example, many purchasers performed insufficient pre-purchase research and purchased their puppy without seeing it with its mother. These problems are likely to have been dramatically exacerbated during lockdown, with unprecedented demand and competition for puppies being cashed in on by unscrupulous breeders and puppy traffickers.

“Our project will take stock of how and why new owners went about purchasing their puppies during lockdown, and their future plans for their dogs. From this we will identify vulnerabilities to the health, behaviour and welfare of this puppy population, so we can effectively promote ways to safeguard their futures.”

The “pandemic puppies” project is just one important issue being explored in among five different areas. The second COVID-19 focused project will look at factors influencing healthcare decisions for dogs that have chronic health problems, with a particular focus on decision-making during the lockdown period.

Delayed euthanasia was an issue that was flagged as a priority animal welfare concern in the Delphi Study. This inspired two of the awarded projects, one of which will use electronic health records to look at delayed euthanasia in cats and dogs and the reasons behind this, the other looking at improving end of life decisions for dairy cattle and calves, and exploring when the “right” time to euthanise might be.

The final project is based around the welfare impacts of different rat control methods and aims to lead to better informed management decisions in the future. It also tackles the AWF priority welfare issue, “lethal wildlife management”, and an area of particular interest to the veterinary profession, “wild rodent control”.

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