Welfare of dogs: code of practice

Best practice guidance to help those responsible for dogs meet the duty of care under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006

Section 5: the need to be protected from suffering, injury and disease

Make sure you receive regular health care advice about your dog

5.1. This section offers guidance on the health and welfare of your dog.

Health care

5.2. Good health is an essential part of good dog welfare. Your vet is the best person to advise you about routine health care, such as neutering, vaccination and internal and external parasite control, as well as any health problems it may have.

5.3. As the person responsible for your pet's welfare you need to consider:

  • prevention of disease. There are various vaccinations that are designed to protect your dog from certain diseases
  • prevention of parasite problems. Many worming and flea preparations are available and your vet or pet care specialist will be able to advise you on which are most suitable
  • provision of a healthy, balanced diet (see section 2)
  • provision of the right environment that minimises the risk of injury and disease (see section 1)
  • prompt action if your dog becomes ill or begins to behave in an unusual way
  • good dental hygiene


Be aware of the signs of illness and if you notice any contact your vet

5.4. It is important that you are aware of the signs of illness and that you consult a vet if your dog shows any or there is a change in its behaviour.

A healthy dog or puppy will:

  • be alert, active and bright eyed, responsive to sounds and the world around it
  • have no signs of discharge around its eyes, mouth and nostrils
  • have clean ears with no strong odour
  • be breathing quietly and regularly with no coughing
  • have a clean skin, with no lumps, bumps or sores
  • have a coat that is clean, glossy and free from parasites, loose hairs and dirt
  • have no signs of diarrhoea around its tail
  • show no signs of limping
  • have healthy gums and clean teeth, free from tartar
  • have nails that are not too long, deformed or growing back into the skin or pads

Indications of illness include:

  • sickness and diarrhoea
  • lack of appetite
  • a change of weight in either direction
  • drinking much more or less than normal
  • lack of energy
  • unusual swellings
  • skin conditions and excessive scratching
  • limping
  • coughing
  • unusual bleeding
  • signs of pain, such as sensitivity to touch

5.5. This list is not exhaustive and any change in your dog's behaviour should alert you to the possibility that it may be ill. If you think that there is anything wrong with your dog, call your veterinary practice for advice.

Obtaining a dog

Always obtain your dog from a reputable source

5.6. The future health and welfare of your dog may be affected by the circumstances under which it was bred. Not all dogs are bred with appropriate care for their physical and behavioural well-being and health. It is best to take advice from your vet or other relevant organisations (see Appendix 2) about where to obtain your dog. This will help to ensure that it is fit, healthy and of good quality.

5.7. You should check as far as is possible with the breeder, pet shop, rescue centre or sanctuary:

  • that the dog's parents have been appropriately screened for inherited defects commonly found in the breed (for example, hip scores for hip dysplasia or eye screening for inherited eye conditions)
  • where available, the dog's medical history and background

This will give you information to help you be sure that you are able to meet its needs. Some rescue dogs for example require special care. However, this information is less likely to be available for dogs from sanctuaries and rescue shelters.

5.8. Take your new dog or puppy to a veterinary surgeon for general health care advice within a couple of days of welcoming it into your home. Follow your vet's advice about continuing healthcare throughout its life.

You should ensure your dog's coat and teeth are properly maintained


5.9. A long-haired dog will need more coat attention than a short-haired one, and will need grooming daily to keep its coat free from matts and tangles. However, all dogs may need grooming or bathing if necessary to keep their skin and coat in good condition. You will need a brush and comb suited to your dog's type of coat. A pet care specialist will be able to advise you about coat care.

Dental care

5.10. Care of your dog's teeth should be part of its routine grooming schedule. Special canine toothpaste and brushes are recommended for daily use and are now widely available from vets and pet shops. There are also special dental chews and toys that can also help keep your dog's teeth and gums healthy.

Identification, Collars and Leads

Your dog must wear a collar and identity tag when in a public place

5.11. There are many different collars and leads available and it is important you choose a collar that fits your pet correctly. Your dog must wear a collar and the collar must carry a tag with your name and address and, if possible, a contact telephone number on it (Control of Dogs Order 1992). The following categories of dogs are exempt from the order;

  • any pack of hounds
  • any dog while being used for sporting purposes
  • any dog while being used for the capture or destruction of vermin
  • any dog while being used for the driving or tending of cattle or sheep
  • any dog while being used on official duties by a member of the Armed Forces, HM Revenue and Customs or the police force
  • any dog while being used in emergency rescue work
  • any dog registered with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

5.12. It is also recommended that you have your dog microchipped by a suitably qualified person. A microchip is a tiny computer chip, about the size of a grain of rice, that contains a unique indelible identification number. It is injected under the skin of an animal by a vet or a trained pet care specialist and the owner's details are kept on a database. If your dog is lost or stolen, when it is found the 'chip' can be scanned by a vet, dog warden or rescue centre and this will help you to be re-united with your pet. Owners should remember to update database details as necessary, for example, a change of address. However, even if microchipped, your dog will still have to wear a collar and tag.

What to do if your dog is missing

5.13. You should contact the police and local authority dog wardens who are responsible for dealing with stray dogs. As dogs can travel for some distance vets and animal rescue centres in a wide area should be contacted. It may also be worthwhile putting up notices in the area. Once your dog has been found any notices that you have put up should be removed.

Reproductive Behaviour

You should give careful consideration to the pros and cons of neutering your dog

5.14. Reproduction is one aspect of a dog's natural behaviour. You should, however, consider whether or not to have your dog neutered; if you decide not to neuter your pet you will need to consider how to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Your vet will be able to discuss the best course of action with you, including alternatives to neutering, taking into account all of the different factors associated with your dog's care.


5.15. The pros and cons of whether to neuter your dog should be discussed with your vet. One particularly important consideration is preventing the birth of unwanted puppies. You should, therefore, consider having your dog neutered. Your vet will be able to advise you about the best age to have this done. Although there is much debate as to whether it is appropriate to neuter a dog, there is evidence that neutering has some positive health benefits:

  • neutered bitches will not develop a life threatening womb infection called pyometra
  • neutered bitches are thought to be less prone to mammary tumours
  • neutering male dogs prevents testicular cancer
  • neutering male dogs may help prevent some unwanted behaviours such as inappropriate mounting, aggression and straying
  • un-neutered animals which are prevented from breeding may suffer frustration leading to behavioural problems

5.16. If you decide not to have your dog neutered and wish to breed from it, there are a number of considerations to be taken into account which include:

  • finding suitable homes for the puppies
  • health screening to ensure that the parents do not carry any inherited defects which may be passed on to their offspring

You will also need to consider the potential problem of unplanned matings.

Help is often available from various animal welfare organisations who offer neutering at a discounted rate for those on benefits or low incomes.


5.17. It may be necessary, in the event of incurable illness, old age related problems or, more suddenly, in the event of an accident, to arrange the euthanasia of your dog. The dog's welfare must always come first. Therefore, in the best interests of your dog, you must give the issue your full consideration well before the time comes to make a decision to prevent your dog suffering unnecessary pain and distress. Where, in the opinion of a veterinary surgeon, your dog will not respond to treatment for any serious injury or condition involving significant pain, or is in such a condition that it would be cruel to keep it alive, the animal should be humanely destroyed by a vet or other qualified person without delay.

5.18. In a non-emergency situation, where your dog is permanently unsound or has a recurring or permanent and steadily worsening condition, a rational and humane decision should be made with due regard for the animal's future and welfare. In some cases it may be kinder to have your dog painlessly destroyed by a vet.

Back to top