A landmark initiative to help assure proper care of small companion animals has been unveiled by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) and leaders from across the pet community. The PIJAC Small Animal Standards of Care (SAC) is the first-ever, comprehensive set of voluntary standards for breeders and distributors of small mammals, reptiles and birds.
Pet industry leaders, animal care experts, veterinarians and others have worked together for over a year to evaluate Animal Welfare Act regulations, existing animal care policies and companion animal care best practices. Their goal was to address a gap in animal welfare—a lack of regulations surrounding birds and reptiles—and to align best practices for the care of small mammals at breeders and distributors. The result of this collaboration are the SAC standards, which are a rigorous, substantive program to assure the health and well-being of small companion animals.
“This truly was a collective effort to create and launch the first national set of robust guidelines for the care of small companion animals being raised by breeders and distributors of animals,” said Mike Bober, president and CEO of PIJAC. “These standards incorporate current best practices, science and data into a single set of high-level standards to help ensure the welfare of these animals; to provide critical animal care guidance for breeders, distributors and employees; and to demonstrate our shared commitment to assuring responsibility and appropriate animal care at all times.”
A Year of Expert Input and Development
Bober and PIJAC Board Chair Laura “Peach” Reid worked closely with pet industry leaders for more than one year to create the standards.
“PIJAC’s diverse membership enabled our committee to secure input and evaluation from experts representing all sectors within our pet community,” said Reid, who also chairs the PIJAC Small Animal Care Committee. “The SAC standards for birds, small mammals, and reptiles will allow all who care for these pets to hold themselves to the same high standards for best practices.”
The standards are a compilation of federal Animal Welfare Act regulations, veterinary review and existing industry best practices with a firm grounding in science and data. Standards are divided into sections on facilities, care practices and transport to address all stages of animal care by breeders and distributors. Guidelines for record-keeping and staffing procedures also are included.
The standards also codify best practices for the care of reptiles and birds, which are not regulated under the federal Animal Welfare Act. By creating industry expectations for care, the standards will ensure proper nutrition, veterinary care, and other best practices are provided for these animals.
“A critical measure included in the standards is the establishment of new guidelines for biosecurity and facility security,” Bober said. “The standards for these areas are general enough to account for the individual circumstances in which each breeder and distributor may find themselves, but specific enough to provide effective guidance above and beyond the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act for disease prevention, health and well-being and site management.”
Specific elements of the standards include, but are not limited to, care provisions addressing housing, water and air quality, lighting and temperature control, feed and nutrition, cleanliness and sanitation, biosecurity, veterinary care, quarantine of sick animals, euthanasia, and much more. Standards also address the humane transport of small animals, including handling and receiving, animal carriers, shipping, space per animal, safety, and temperature control.
Employee-Centered Complementary Effort
As an added measure of assurance within the program, two complementary programs focused on animal care by the employees of breeders and distributors accompany the introduction of the standards: a Duty of Care policy and a toll-free hotline.
The Duty of Care template is designed to be adopted by breeders and distributors for their employees to sign. Signing the code affirms that employees understand and share their employers’ commitment to the SAC standards and agree to care for animals according to those standards.
The animal care toll-free hotline provides an anonymous method for any employee of a breeder or distributor to confidentially report animal abuse or mistreatment, without concern for retaliation, so that all claims can be investigated thoroughly, and disciplinary actions can be taken as needed.
“Empowering employees with the resources and education to recognize and report animal mistreatment or care issues makes this program even more meaningful—and will ensure proper care across the entire breeding and distribution channel,” Bober said.
SAC standards are the first of what is anticipated to be additional developments in the area of small animal care. Program leaders anticipate that over time, the now-voluntary standards may be expanded as part of a continuous improvement process, and verification of compliance with the standards may be affirmed through third-party, independent audits.
An executive summary, as well as the full set of comprehensive SAC standards, is available online at PIJAC.org.