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What are the key issues for feline welfare?

There are an estimated 11 million owned cats in the UK. Here is a selection of issues that affect cat welfare.

Cat breeding and sale

Unlike dog breeding, cat breeding is unregulated in England. Female cats in ill health may be overbred, giving birth to repeated litters in poor conditions and producing kittens that are sick and diseased. Male stud cats can also experience poor welfare, by being kept in inadequate accommodation with a lack of essential items, such as litter trays and food bowls, and opportunities to express their natural instincts and behaviours. Unfortunately, some people seeking to profit from breeding cats care more about how much money they can make than they do about the welfare of the cats they breed and their kittens.

Designer cat breeds

Although moggies remain the most commonly owned type of cat in the UK, the popularity of purebred and pedigree cats is increasing. Indeed, research from Cats Protection’s Cats and Their Stats Report 2023 found that there has been a significant increase in purebred and pedigree cats: of the cats obtained in the last 12 months, 42% of them were pedigree/purebred cats compared to 17% of those obtained more than five years ago.  The breeding of some breeds of cats are of concern including brachycephalic (flat-faced) cats such as extreme breeds of Persian, cats bred with dwarfism such as Munchkins and cats bred with cartilage deficiencies such as the Scottish Fold.

Human wellbeing and cats

Pet ownership can be of huge benefit to wellbeing. Cats can help to combat loneliness and social isolation. They provide companionship, love and enjoyment to owners of all ages. Although in some cases cat ownership or interaction will not be appropriate, in others cats can be a positive part of the solution.

Pet-friendly housing

With increasing proportions of people looking to rent long-term in the UK, either socially or privately, it is more important than ever for landlords to have positive, proactive pet policies that allow pets, including cats. Cats Protection’s Cats and Their Stats Report 2023 revealed that renting a home is often cited as a reason for not owning a cat, with potentially 1 million households impacted.

Microchipping of pet cats

Microchipping is a safe and permanent way to identify pet cats and can help reunite lost cats with their owners or provide closure in the tragic event of cats killed in road traffic accidents. After many years of campaigning, compulsory microchipping for pet cats in England will come into force from 10 June 2024. It’s important to remember that all pet cats over 20 weeks need to be microchipped, even if they are indoor cats or ones which stay close to home. Cats are agile, curious and can be masters of escape, and it’s easy for family members or visitors to accidentally leave a window or door open. If this does happen, indoor cats are equally at risk of getting lost as other cats – perhaps even more so if they’re unfamiliar with the surroundings – so it’s vital they are microchipped. No matter how far from home they are found, or how long they have been missing, if a cat has a microchip there is a good chance they can be swiftly returned home.

Pet Theft

A report by Pet Theft Awareness found that in 2021 police-recorded cat theft increased by 40% compared to the previous year and has more than quadrupled since 2015. This is likely to be the tip of the iceberg as most police forces simply record pet theft as property theft. The theft of a much-loved pet is devastating for the pet (particularly as cats are sentient beings) and for their owner(s). It cannot be right that the theft of a cat is treated in law in the same way as theft of a mobile phone; as though it were an object, something replaceable.

Pet Smuggling

Pet smuggling poses a number of risks to both humans and animals. Smuggled animals may carry transmissible diseases (such as rabies and tapeworm) which they will then bring into the UK, putting both humans and our cats at risk. It also puts vulnerable cats and kittens at risk by exposing them to long journeys in cramped conditions. Cats are known to be particularly susceptible to stress which can often cause serious health issues. It risks creating a market of sick cats. Smuggled animals may not have had veterinary treatment including vaccines and are often sold on when they are too young or sick and/or into situations where they will be used for intensive breeding.

Snares and cats

Snares, thin wire nooses that are commonly used by landowners to catch foxes, rabbits and stoats, often catch cats, causing immense suffering.

Snares are commonly used by gamekeepers to protect game birds from predatory animals and by farmers and other landholders to prevent animals from causing damage. Snares are generally targeted at foxes and, to a lesser extent, rabbits. However, snares are unable to discriminate between species and many other animals are often the victims, including cats. Some types of snares are already illegal but, partly due to confusion about which types are legal and which are not, illegal types are still in use. However, all snares cause pain and suffering and, where the animal is not released, eventual slow and painful death.

Sentencing for crimes against cats

Cats face violence and cruelty far too often. In 2021 the maximum penalty for cruelty offences (causing unnecessary suffering) was raised from six months to five years and/or an unlimited fine. But deliberate cruelty to cats is still frequent including examples set out below.

Air weapons and cats

Cats are too often the victims of shootings using air weapons. The purchase, acquirement, possession and use of air weapons in Scotland or Northern Ireland is subject to licence but unlicensed in England and Wales. Sadly, the unregulated use of air guns is having a devastating impact on cats. Over the last 10 years, there have been 1,349 reported cases of cats being shot by air guns across the UK (over 90% of shootings reported in the press are in England and Wales). These figures are likely to be the tip of the iceberg, as it requires owners to take their story to the press. Additionally, many cats won’t make it home after being shot and so their owners never find out what happened to them. Whether the target of intentional shooting or unintended victims, air gun-related injuries and fatalities among cats are devastating.

Dangerous dogs and cats

The vast majority of dog owners are responsible and keep their dog(s) under control. However, sadly, dog attacks on cats happen all too frequently.  Dog attacks on cats are a terrifying experience for the cat, their owner and the wider community. Attacks often result in the death of a cat and witnesses can be left with long-lasting trauma. When vicious attacks take place in public, it can be deeply worrying and upsetting for the whole community. Over the last 10 years, 461 cats have been reported in the press as having been attacked by a dog. Approximately 80% these attacks are fatal which, of course, has a devastating impact on the cat’s family. Cats may not die quickly, and many suffer greatly before succumbing to their injuries.

Aversive training devices

Aversive training devices such as electronic shock collars can legally be used on cats, for example if the cat starts to go somewhere the owner doesn’t want them to go.  Aversive training devices cause pain as well as fear and stress. They are also known to lead to behavioural problems and to break down the trust between owner and pet.  All types of devices designed to deliver pain or other unpleasant sensation or chemical, have the same impact and are bad for an animal’s health and wellbeing.


News

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