New Code of Practice Ideal Resource for Horse Owners

The Animal Protection Act, 1999

The Animal Protection Act, 1999 (the APA) states that is an offence to cause an animal to be in distress, or to allow an animal to remain in distress (Sections 4 (1) and 4 (2)).  The following excerpt from APA explains what is – and is not – distress:  “(2) Subject to subsection (3), for the purposes of this Part, an animal is in distress if it is: (a) deprived of adequate food, water, care or shelter; (b) injured, sick, in pain or suffering; or (c) abused or neglected.  (3) An animal is not considered to be in distress if it is handled: (a) in a manner consistent with a standard or code of conduct, criteria, practice or procedure that is prescribed as acceptable; or (b) in accordance with generally accepted practices of animal management.”

Section 3 of the APA is very important as it gives us tools to define terms such as “adequate food, water, care or shelter.” The Animal Protection Act Regulations, 2000 specifically lists a set of standards or codes of conduct that are used as reference material for the APA, and which define what is, and is not, acceptable husbandry.

NFACC and the Codes of Practice

The National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) is a national organization that brings a diverse group of stakeholders together to discuss animal welfare issues. They have developed the Codes of Practice, which are standards for the care and handling of various farmed animal species. The Codes are developed through a consensus process with input from scientists, veterinarians, producers, animal welfare organizations and the public. For more information about NFACC, the Codes of Practice and the Code development process, please see NFACC’s website at:  http://www.nfacc.ca/ .

The Codes are currently under review for several species, and new Codes have just been published for several others. The most current Codes specifically list minimum care requirements, and acknowledge that the Codes and their requirements may be used in animal welfare legislation enforcement.

Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines

The new Code of Practice for Equines was published in June of 2013. The Code begins with “The most significant influence on the welfare of equines is the care and management provided by the person(s) responsible for their daily care.” It is vital that equine owners and caregivers are familiar with the proper care of equines in order to optimize their welfare, and to ensure that their animals are not in distress.

The Code document itself is extremely well written, and is an excellent reference document. It is quite extensive at nearly 100 pages long, and is divided into 10 sections. In this article, I will discuss some of what I feel are the important points from the Facilities and Housing, Feed and Water, and Health Management sections; I will discuss some important points from remaining sections in the future. I strongly encourage all horse owners to get a copy of the Code and review it completely.

Facilities and Housing

The “Facilities and Housing” section contains 25 separate requirements, the most of any individual section of the Code. This demonstrates the enormous impact that shelter, handling facilities, and general housing and environmental issues can have on equine welfare.

Important requirements in the Facilities and Housing section include a provision that all horses have sufficient space to move easily in pastures or paddocks, that subordinate horses have room to escape aggression, and that horses have access to mud free areas. In the “Shade and Shelter” subsection, an excellent new requirement is that horses that show signs of heat or cold stress must be provided with assistance, and that blanketed horses must have their condition – under the blanket – checked at least weekly. There is a general theme that all fences and facilities be well designed and properly maintained so as to prevent or minimize risk of injury. Another important new requirement is that there must be facilities available (either on farm, or offsite) for the treatment and segregation of injured or sick horses. There are also air quality, lighting and space requirements for indoor housing.

Feed and Water

Concerns about inadequate feed or water are at the root of a majority of the complaints that the Saskatchewan SPCA receives about equine welfare. The Code’s requirements regarding feed and water are quite straightforward, but they do have considerable potential to affect equine management practices in Saskatchewan.

The Code states that “horses must have access to safe, palatable and clean water in quantities to maintain health and vigour” and “in extreme weather condition (cold or hot), special attention must be paid to ensure water availability, access and intake.” These are excellent requirements, in my opinion. They mean that simply having access to a water source of some kind is no longer sufficient; instead the water must be of good quality and there must be enough of it to ensure “health and vigour.” There is also a discussion about snow as a sole water source for horses, and the Code concludes that snow alone will not be sufficient to meet the requirements in most cases. In Saskatchewan, it is not uncommon for people to rely on snow as a water source for their horses in winter, so this could represent a change for some horse owners if a snow only system is compromising their horses’ “health and vigour.”

The feed requirements include daily access to forage that is free of visible mould, providing only feeds that are appropriate for equines, securing grains and concentrates to prevent overeating, and access to salt. Perhaps most importantly, the Code requirement specifically requires that horses “must receive a diet that is adequate for maintaining health and vigour” and “the daily ration must address the horse’s maintenance and activity needs and other factors relevant to individual horses and the environment.”  This is a crucial requirement because it acknowledges that simply having some kind of feed source present is no longer sufficient – that feed must be of a quality and quantity to maintain the horse’s health, and it must meet the needs of the equine at its particular life stage.

Health Management

The “Health Management” section of the Code contains a number of excellent requirements.  Among them is a requirement that horses must be checked on frequently, that a parasite control program must be in place, that equines showing signs of dental problems must be examined and treated, that lameness must be addressed, and that horses with laminitis (founder) must receive appropriate lifelong treatment. Specific requirements for sick and injured horses include that they must receive appropriate treatment, or be euthanized, without delay.  There is also a requirement for horse owners to obtain veterinary advice without delay, or make arrangements for euthanasia, for animals that are not responding to treatment. I am especially pleased that these requirements specify treatment “without delay” as this is very clear wording that supports the Animal Protection Act requirement that animals not be allowed to remain in distress.

Perhaps the most important requirements in the Code are found in the “Body Condition Scoring” subsection. Here, the Code specifically lists Body Condition Scores (BCS) at which the owner must take steps to correct the animal’s condition, and further specifies that veterinary advice must be sought for animals that do not respond to the corrective action. The background information section in this part of the Code discusses how to use a BCS, the issues associated with both thin and overweight body conditions, as well as BCS considerations for reproductive horses and working horses. The Code’s Appendix D contains excellent descriptions and drawings of the various BCS for horses and ponies, while Appendix E contains the same information for donkeys and mules.

For horses and ponies, the requirement reads: “corrective action must be taken at a BCS of 3 or lower and at a BCS of 8 or higher (on the 1-9 scale). Veterinary advice must be obtained if animals do not respond to the corrective action.”  There is also a specific requirement for veterinary care for geriatric equines that are emaciated. These requirements are particularly useful for our enforcement work as they define the specific BCS that have been agreed to as unacceptable – both too high and too low – and where caregivers are required to make management changes.  The requirement for geriatric horses is of particular value, as some caregivers feel emaciation is a normal and unavoidable condition in old equines; however, an excessively thin condition is generally indicative of other issues that should be addressed by a veterinarian.

Conclusion

The new Code of Practice for Equines is an ideal resource document, and I believe that it will be very useful, both as an information source for equine owners, and as a reference that clearly outlines industry accepted practices should the material be required in court proceedings.

The complete Code of Practice for Equines can be found by following the links on the NFACC website (http://www.nfacc.ca/) or is it available for download as a PDF directly at:   http://www.nfacc.ca/pdfs/codes/equine_code_of_practice.pdf

By Kaley Pugh, Manager of Animal Protection Services, Saskatchewan SPCA
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