Animals in Sport and Competition - Position Statement
July 16, 2019
The CVMA has developed two position papers entitled Animals in Sport and Competition and Animals in Entertainment and the Arts. Although superficially there could appear to be overlap between the scope of the two documents, in that humans watch sport for entertainment, the critical difference is the animals’ activity in these two situations. When considering the animal welfare implications of an activity, it is what the animals do and experience that matters. The risks to the welfare of the animals are markedly different when they are used for sport and competition, and when they are used for entertainment or in the arts. The entertainment position is meant to address, for example, animals performing in a circus or on a film stage. The Sport and Competition position would cover dogs running in a dog sled race or horses on a track. Some activities such as a traveling rodeo will need to be looked at through the lens of both position statements. Definitions of “entertainment” and “sport and competition” are not included within the position statements as there are no agreed-upon definitions in the literature.
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) accepts the humane and ethical use of animals in competition and sport. The CVMA strongly supports progressive implementation of strategies to mitigate risks involved with the care and management of animals used in sport and competition, to promote sound physical, social and psychological health and well-being of the animal, and to find alternatives which end avoidable harm and suffering.
- Animal health and welfare is paramount with respect to the use of animals in sport and competition.
- All animals used in sport and competition should receive veterinary oversight and timely care by suitably experienced veterinarians.
- The CVMA requires that the animals’ long-term welfare be considered before being obtained for use in sport or competition, extending to the development of a retirement plan. Every effort should be made to either re-purpose or re-home animals unsuitable for sporting or competitive events. Euthanasia should be considered as an option only when there are significant welfare or on-going care issues.
- The CVMA strongly supports research on the health and welfare implications of sport and competition usage extending to and including training and the associated life cycle of usage.
- The CVMA strongly advocates for the continued development and adoption of national standards and policies for the housing, management, husbandry, training, transport, and biosecurity of animals used in competition and sport.
- The CVMA strongly advocates for continuing education to ensure that animals are attended by skilled and knowledgeable personnel.
1. The CVMA recognizes that welfare concerns can arise over the use of animals in sport and competition particularly when physical, social or behavioural demands or the duration of the demands imposed on the animals lie outside species or individual norms, and capacities for performance and uneventful recovery.
- Animals used in sport and competition are exposed to a range of potential welfare issues that are specific to their use, and which otherwise would not occur to the same extent if they were not used for these purposes. These issues can arise during events, training for events, and as a result of their management between events (1).
- The physiological and physical responses to excessive exercise can predispose animals to heat stress, dehydration, musculoskeletal damage, and fatigue (2-4).
- Events that take place in extreme environmental conditions can also predispose animals to distress, and health issues (5,6).
- The fitness of animals (health and physiological capacity) to compete is an important factor in avoiding the development of welfare issues.
2. Events that require animals to perform physical tasks involving agility (7,8) can predispose animals to injury and suffering as can physical, surgical, or chemical interventions to improve performance, or aid in training. Such interventions run contrary to animal health and welfare unless performed for therapy and rehabilitation under veterinary care and supervision (9-12). Risk of injury, suffering, illness and distress must be mitigated during training, sport and competition (2,13), and every opportunity must be provided for the expression of normal behaviour in the rest periods between training, sporting, and competition events.
3. Adequate human and veterinary resources must be made available at each stage of the development and use of performance animals, and such human resources must be educated to recognize, intervene, and mitigate health and welfare issues.
4. The CVMA strongly supports housing, husbandry, training, and performance practices that promote and meet the species-specific physical, nutritional, behavioral and social needs of the animal, and discourages the use of animals unsuitable by species, breed, or temperament for competitive sport activities.
5. The CVMA endorses the use of animal equipment that does no harm (14), is in good working order, is suitable for the intended use, conforms to species and breed conformation, and is compliant with regulatory requirements.
6. The CVMA recommends that animals used in sport and competition be bred, housed, fed, raised, habituated, and trained as well as selected for suitability for the intended sport and competitive activity (15). In the breeding to retirement life cycle, animals must receive veterinary oversight and timely care by suitably experienced veterinarians. Animal health and welfare standards compliant with national and industry codes of practice should be applied.
7. In all areas where animals are housed, bred, trained or used in sport and competition, humane and ethical treatment must be paramount, and animals must be handled and treated, respectfully.
- Training methods should be based on positive reinforcement, which emphasizes normal behaviour (16-17). Acclimation, habituation and training - including exposure to novel situations by systematic desensitization - can decrease stress associated with sport and competition (18).
- The indiscriminate and non-therapeutic use of drugs or non-nutritive agents to alter or enhance training or performance, or procedures or equipment that alter the conformation, appearance or function of animals used in sport or competition are unacceptable and ought to be prohibited.
- Compliance with requirements regarding the use of drugs, nutritional, non-nutritive supplements, and otherwise prohibited compounds and products is required to satisfy association, national and international regulatory agency requirements (19-22). This enables fair dealing in sport and competition, and safeguards not only the health and welfare of performance animals, but also that of their care givers and human performance partners.
- Periods of training, performance and exposure to sporting and competitive events should be limited to timeframes that support good health and psychological fitness. Animals must be given opportunity for adequate or, preferably, self-directed rest to ensure optimal recovery from physically and psychologically demanding sporting or competitive events.
8. The CVMA requires that the animals’ long-term welfare be considered before being obtained for use in sport or competition, extending to the development of a retirement plan. Consideration should be given to whether very young or very old animals are suitable. Every effort should be made to re-purpose or re-home animals found unsuitable for sporting or competitive events by virtue of health, age or temperament, but otherwise judged to be in good health. Euthanasia should be considered as an option only when there are significant welfare or on-going care issues. Euthanasia as a means to address the situation where an animal can no longer perform at a competitive level should be employed only where circumstances preclude animal retraining, repurposing, rehoming or retirement. The welfare of the animal is paramount in all decision-making.
9. The CVMA strongly supports the development of animal health and welfare criteria designed to:
- identify problems during training; or during sporting and competition events;
- disqualify or remove unfit animals before or during sporting, or competition events;
- impose time-limited or lifetime prohibition, or retirement of animals from sport or competition (23-26).
10. Sporting bodies are encouraged to (a) keep records of deaths, injuries and health issues that arise in their sport (during events and training), and to report on these to their organizational bodies so as to enhance not only animal welfare and safety but also human health; (b) maintain a record of medications used; and (c) work with veterinary advisors to mitigate welfare issues that arise (19,27-30).
11. Conformity with infectious disease control protocols (prevention, housing, quarantine, treatment, recovery, and clearance assurance) is essential when individual animals and populations of animals mix during sporting and competitive events. Biosecurity protocols must be followed by both participants and event organizers to avoid, or minimize the spread of infectious diseases.
12. Conformity with national and international regulations concerning the movement of animals must be incorporated into sport, and competition management plans, whether as participants or event organizers, and sport and competition associations.
13. The CVMA strongly advocates for the continued development and adoption of animal welfare standards compliant with national codes of practice for the housing, training, management, husbandry, and transport of animals used in sport or competition (19). Periodic external third-party review and assurance of animal welfare standards is recommended.
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(Adopted June 2019)