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Original research
Determining priority welfare issues for cats in the United Kingdom using expert consensus
  1. Fiona Rioja-Lang1,
  2. Heather Bacon1,
  3. Melanie Connor1 and
  4. Cathy Mary Dwyer1,2
  1. 1Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education, The University of Edinburgh Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies, Edinburgh, UK
  2. 2Animal Behaviour and Welfare, Scotland's Rural College, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Cathy Mary Dwyer; cathy.dwyer{at}


Background Cats are the most popular pets in the UK, yet relatively little research has been conducted into the welfare of cats living in a home environment. The purpose of this study was to determine and prioritise welfare issues for cats using a Delphi method.

Methods Cat welfare experts (n=14) were asked to identify and rank welfare issues for cats in the UK. An initial list of 118 welfare issues was generated by an anonymous online discussion board of experts and thematic analysis using NVivo. Subsequently experts ranked the list of welfare issues according to severity, duration and prevalence using a 6-point Likert scale. All issues with a median score of 3 or above (n=43) were included in the second survey to determine agreement on the rankings of issues. Finally, a subsection of experts attended a two-day workshop to discuss the welfare rankings and determine the final prioritised list of welfare issues.

Results The issues considered to be the most severe and/or likely to cause prolonged cat suffering included social behaviour issues, diseases of old age, obesity, owners not seeking veterinary care and poor pain management. The welfare issues perceived to be most prevalent included neglect/hoarding, delayed euthanasia, inherited conformational defects/diseases, social or environmental restriction, and poor pain management.

Conclusions The outcomes suggested that, although issues such as cat behaviour required further research, owner education was an important factor in improving cat welfare.

  • companion animals
  • animal welfare
  • behaviour
  • Health
  • Delphi method

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, an indication of whether changes were made, and the use is non-commercial. See:

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  • Funding This study was funded by the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF). AWF is a fundraising and grant-giving charity (charity number 287118) directed by veterinary professions which uses veterinary knowledge to improve the welfare of animals through science, education and debate. More information can be found at

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval All research generated from this study was approved by the University of Edinburgh’s Human Ethics Review Committee (HERC).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement All data relevant to the study are included in the article.

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