What is pet and vet culture like in France? Do the French love animals? What about veterinary care? These are the questions many, especially Americans, may ask when planning relocation to France. It’s hardly surprising given what a pet-crazy nation the US is. The wellbeing of their pets is high on their minds.
As American photographer, Heather Richardson, asked on a US-to-France relocation Facebook page recently: “Pet parents, what has your experience been like? Are specialists readily available, and medications easy to access? Have you had to put a pet to sleep?”
Richardson calls herself a “crazy dog lady” - and her elderly dog is her concern here.
She said: “I hope I’m wrong, but it seems like France doesn’t value pet care to the same level that America does. E.g. There are many more abandoned pets.”
Relocating your fur babies across continents is one thing. But being sure they will fit in well in their new home is another, including being sure you will find good care for them on the other side of the Atlantic.
So, here are a few things to know, to help you negotiate pet and vet etiquette in France.
What place do pets have in French society?
Here are a few facts and figures to give you an idea of the place of ‘animaux de compagnie’ (pets) in French society.
- The country has 80 million pets. That’s a pooch or cat for about one in every two households. In the US, that figure is closer to two-thirds (68%) of homes with at least one pet, says the American Veterinary Medical Association. Either way, both France and the US are up there among the world’s champion and passionate pet owners.
- There are slightly more dogs than cats, and more women than men pet owners, according to pet insurance association, Agria.
- 87% of cats and 48% of dogs are sterilised, says a study from national pet health insurer, SantéVet.
- For most pet-owners, their cat or dog is their bonheur - happiness personified - the study found.
The French indulge their four-legged friends.
- 40% give them a Christmas or birthday present. In total, they spend €4billion a year mollycoddling them with treats.
- 5% of dog owners say they met the love of their life - through the other love of their life - their dog.
- About 550 students start seven years of vet education annually at one of the four national veterinary schools.
So just how good is vet care?
Holly Chevalier, an American translator and English teacher in Paris, finds “pet health care in France to be ‘excellent’”.
She said: “I have lived in France for over 25 years and owned six different dogs. Unfortunately, I have had to put some down due to serious health issues. I have lived in Paris, Lyon and Montpellier and have consistently had incredible, compassionate and highly professional vets.”
For Zeni Bandy, who is back home in California after working in Paris at a Silicon Valley startup, French pet and vet care are impeccable.
She was wowed by the kindness of vets in France as her beloved dog ”went downhill”.
She said: “I had a fantastic vet in Paris - just as good as any I had in the US. And for end of life stuff, I’m actually so thankful I was in France.”
When her pooch suddenly went into cardiac arrest, she called the vet emergency number, 3115.
She said: “Within an hour, a vet came and had to put our dog down. He was extremely kind and we could tell he truly cared about her and us. It all happened in our home - the best-case scenario. I’m not sure what we would have done in the US as we don’t have a pet 911.
“So those who are apprehensive about the move - more for what it might mean for their pets than themselves - can stop worrying now.”
I agree. Almost a year to the day, I had to say au revoir to my little rescue cat, Cupcake; the love of my life. My only frustration was feeling there were better treatment options available elsewhere, including in the US, for her thyroid problem. Likewise, for alternative food.
So while the care was there, I feel choices are possibly more conservative in France.
I didn’t have much luck with the first young vet. She just handed me an €80 bill and gave me no idea why Cupcake was so sick. Later, I kept wondering what the outcome might have been if her illness had been identified earlier - and managed better.
This, no doubt, is just a question of a good or bad vet. As is the case everywhere.
In the end, the vet fully informed me, before I had to make the horrid decision…It was a terribly traumatic experience. But it would have been whatever country I was in.
Pet and vet care for all
In France, I would note that there is a democratisation of French pet care, thanks to the resources of the Society of Protection For Animals (SPA). These clinics offer very cheap vet visits for low-income earners.
Taking this a few steps further, the government last year launched Vétérinaires Pour Tous, so that even homeless people can easily access vet care for free, or for a price that they can afford depending on their income.
Meanwhile, the association,Gamelles Pleines (Full Bowls) distributes weekly rations of animal food to the homeless.
French law gets tough on abandoned pets
But despite this apparent love of pets in France, some domestic animals still receive poor treatment, especially during the summer holidays, when abandonments peak.
When I did my first pet sit in Paris, way back, the sound of dogs crying into the night was deeply distressing.
News of this problem has reached American shores, and is part of peoples’ concern.
Yearly campaigns by the SPA and others are helping turn things around, along with constant education and awareness campaigns.
This summer, reports Le Figaro, France’s SPA shelters have been “saturated” by abandoned animals. A total of 60,000 pets were abandoned during the holidays, of an estimated 100,000 per year.
Now, new laws are cracking down on this.
The government says it is stepping up action against the abandonment of pets, especially to stop impulse purchases.
Fines, for example, are set to be dished out for those who don’t comply with the mandatory identification of cats., and owners now have to sign a certificate before purchase to show that they understand the costs and commitment involved with owning a pet.
Remember, we are talking about France, the land of human rights – liberty, fraternity, equality.
And for most people, at least, those principles should extend to animals.