Companion Animals

What are Companion Animals?

The relationships between animals and man are of antiquity, some of the earliest being those of religious beliefs and worship, but dominantly throughout history animals have played a critical role in provision of motive power and of meat, milk and fibre. Many of these contributions remain important today, especially in the developing world. But in the increasingly urban society of the developed world their role has changed considerably, and it is now regarded as an important reflection of todays' society to add the role of companion animals to the traditional list.

That this role is important is attested by the fact there are some 14 million dogs (6.6m) and cats (7.7m) in the United Kingdom with over 50%, or 1 in 2 households owning a dog or cat.

The use of the phrase 'companion animal' is preferred to that of 'pet' as not only does the latter tend to be pejorative, implying a lack of any utility, but is also fails to provide an adequate description of the relationship that may grow between man and animals that otherwise mainly do perform utilitarian tasks, for example horses.

Of course it is recognised that many species other than dogs and cats contribute to human companionship, such as rabbits, rodents, cage birds, non-indigenous species, and in particular ornamental fish. The last estimate for the latter alone is around 30 m. In this group of species it may be difficult to ascribe to them the rich variety of sentient gestures and signals recognised in dogs and cats toward their owners and which are usually interpreted as expressions of attachment and affection. Though, for example, a stick-insect or a tortoise cannot be as expressive as a cat or dog in its relationship with an owner, there must be clear stewardship established and accepted for the welfare of each animal and it must be treated as a companion animal rather than merely as a status symbol, an ornament or plaything.

Hence the phrase 'companion animals' covers the whole spectrum of species which might otherwise be considered as 'pets'. They have an important role to play in our society. Their welfare is our concern and The Companion Animal Welfare Council is the vehicle to attend to that care.