New Zealand has a "heart-breaking" record on animal abuse, say vets, even as the country tops a list of households with pets.

Dr Wayne Ricketts, veterinary resource manager at the Veterinary Association, said cats and dogs being left to starve and even the Wellsford massacre of 33 dogs were "just the tip of the iceberg" of pet abuse.

Vets were "sickened" by ongoing cases of beaten, ill-treated and starved pets, Dr Ricketts said.

They dealt with abandoned litters, amateur ear cropping, tail docking and botched euthanasia efforts.


"The results are often heart-breaking for those professionals who are required to clean up the mess - often at no charge as owners have disappeared," Dr Ricketts said.

"Cute puppies and kittens for birthdays turn into dependent animals requiring ongoing shelter, care, warmth, food and attention.

"If it's not going to be available, don't adopt that animal."

SPCA executive director Bob Kerridge said pet abuse was a perennial problem in New Zealand.

Cats given away from litters were the most likely to be neglected, Mr Kerridge said.

The Companion Animal Council, also headed by Mr Kerridge, said in its latest report that New Zealand had the world's highest proportion of pets in households.

The "household penetration" of cats had reached 48 per cent, followed by dogs at 29 per cent, contributing to a total of 68 per cent.

This compared with 63 per cent in Australia, 62 per cent in the United States and 47 per cent in the United Kingdom.


In a broader Herald survey for cats, combining older data from the World SPCA and the United Nations, New Zealand came fourth out of 81 countries in cats per head, beaten by only by Panama, Barbados and Samoa. This survey did not account for having more than one pet or person per household.

Mr Kerridge said the SPCA, Women's Refuge and Child, Youth and Family Services had begun alerting one another whenever they were notified of incidents. He said that where there was domestic or child abuse, there was likely to be animal abuse as well - and vice versa.