Table 1

Cat welfare issues as derived from thematic analysis of online discussion boards (unranked)

Category of concernWelfare issue
Health and veterinary issues
  1. Not seeking veterinary care.

  2. Delayed end-of-life decisions.

  3. Unrecognised/untreated pain (chronic).

  4. Toxicity/accidental poisoning (eg, permethrin, lilies, etc).

  5. Common feline health issues, including dental disease, system-based disorders, urinary tract, parasites, etc.

  6. Common feline infectious diseases, especially Feline Herpes Virus, Feline Calicivirus, Feline Parvovirus and Feline Infectious Peritonitis.

  7. Diseases of ageing population, especially osteoarthritis, hyperthyroidism and renal disease (‘hidden’ conditions).

  8. Lack of disease management for stray/community cats.

  9. Physical trauma, for example, Road Traffic Accident, airguns, dog attacks, etc.

  10. Increased risk of rabies, etc, from relaxed PETS passport regulations (2012).

  11. Poor dental care.

  12. Cat bite abscesses.

  13. Poor diagnosis of breed-related issues due to lack of exercise (eg, exercise-induced respiratory distress in brachycephalic cats).

  14. Homeopathy as alternative treatment.

  15. Obesity (especially for indoor cats).

  16. Lack of basic veterinary care (eg, vaccinations, neutering, etc).

  17. Lack of accessibility to subsidised preventive healthcare.

  18. Some veterinary care highly focused on physical health at expense of overall welfare (‘life at all costs’ mentality).

  19. Insufficient access to veterinary clinics (‘cold spots’ in poorer communities).

  20. Not accessing veterinary care (eg, logistics, cat fear, owner fear, perceived overselling).

  21. Lack of professional consensus on welfare issues (eg, Feline Immunodeficiency virus, neutering, vaccination).

  22. Lack of understanding of some vets of impact of length of stay on welfare.

  23. Lack of feline-specific licensed veterinary products.

  24. Lack of knowledge about feline-specific medicinal products.

  25. Veterinary Medicines Directive is very restrictive over the use of non-licensed medicinal products (can create welfare issues).

  26. Non-compliance (of owners) with veterinary instruction/medication.

  27. Poor pain management, including lack of postoperative care following routine surgeries.

  28. Inappropriate transportation of cats to vets (ie, no box/in a blanket).

  29. Turning to social media as the first point of call for cat care advice (vet diagnosis, medicinal advice, dosage rates).

  30. Research gaps (eg, optimal use of analgesics, extreme procedures to prolong life).

  31. Research gaps in of cats with disabilities, for example, paralysis, urinary/faecal incontinence.

  32. Teaching hospitals working up sick cats more than necessary for teaching students.

Housing and environment
  1. Chronic stress (may result in excessive grooming).

  2. Lack of exercise (especially for indoor cats).

  3. Vegetarian and vegan cat diets (possible?).

  4. Poor nutrition/diet.

  5. Enforced group living (naturally solitary living).

  6. Increasing cat density: close proximity due to modern home/estate design.

  7. Inappropriate home environment, for example, number of key resources (litter trays, scratching posts, etc).

  8. Inappropriate kitten socialisation.

  9. Change of environment, for example, moving house, relinquishment, cat shows.

  10. Lack of control over environment (eg, no cat flap).

  11. Poor environmental enrichment and inappropriate access to essential resources.

  12. Cats taken to unfamiliar environments for assisted animal intervention programmes: can be very stressful (handling by unfamiliar people and new environment).

  13. Electronic containment fences.

  14. Exposure to fireworks while either indoors or outdoors.

Breeding and reproduction
  1. High mortality in stray kittens.

  2. Too many unsterilised queens.

  3. Inappropriate pedigree breeding leading to inherited and chronic disorders.

  4. Unregulated breeding/overpopulation (eg, too many cats in UK, not enough homes).

  5. Insufficient timely neutering (due to vet/owner perceptions and myths).

  6. Early litters due to late sterilisation.

  7. Trying to keep fetuses (not full term) alive from a pregnant spay.

  8. Early weaning.

  9. Hand rearing.

  10. Lack of scientific knowledge on best hand rearing practices.

Unowned cats and shelters
  1. Crowded shelter environments (especially during kitten season) and lack of rehoming leading to disease outbreaks (eg, cat flu).

  2. Management of unowned, stray and feral cats.

  3. ‘Rescuing’ feral cats and trying to rehome them to a domestic environment, can take months/years of distress.

  4. Lack of owner knowledge about what to do with healthy stray cats.

  5. Lack of definition and regulation of rescues, boarding catteries, etc.

  6. Loss or abandonment (exacerbated by lack of visible identification).

  7. Uncertainties around legal status and ‘ownership’ of cats (affects attitudes towards responsibility and ownership, affects speed of rehoming).

  8. Long stay in rescue facilities.

  9. Shelter design limitations that do not provide choice and control (eg, lack of outdoor space and places to hide and get up high, visibility to other cats).

Behaviour and training
  1. Behavioural restrictions, for example, house cats and cats in pens (eg, rescues, stud cats, pet shops, cat shows, etc).

  2. Inappropriate human interaction (eg, inappropriate play, flooding).

  3. Not accessing behavioural care/support (eg, lack of awareness, costs, poor bond).

  4. Aversive training methods, for example, spray with water, rubbing their nose in urine, etc.

  5. Electronic training aids and invisible electric fences (to be banned?).

  6. Lack of knowledge of learning theory and how to apply it.

  7. Inappropriate rehabilitation, for example, flooding.

  8. Unwanted behaviour, for example, spraying outside of litterbox.

  9. Negative affective states (eg, fear, anxiety, frustration, pain, acute and/or chronic stress).

  10. The belief that ‘hiding under the bed’ is ‘normal’ behaviour and therefore acceptable.

  11. Territorial disputes.

  12. Dominance myth (alpha status) in cats (eg, owners trying to ‘dominate’ cat).

Knowledge and understanding
  1. General lack of feline behavioural knowledge by owners.

  2. Unqualified ‘behaviourists and trainers’ giving out damaging advice.

  3. General lack of feline health knowledge, including incorrect health and welfare advice given by breeders.

  4. Lack of knowledge of where to seek professional behavioural help.

  5. Lack of owner knowledge about local schemes (eg, neutering for reduced cost).

  6. Lack of knowledge of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (meeting all cat welfare needs).

  7. Owners’ lack of knowledge of what to do when their cat goes missing.

  8. Lack of human understanding of the ethology of the cat.

  9. Lack of human understanding on how the sensitive/socialisation period impacts cats’ lives.

  10. Misconceptions of feline emotions and motivations (eg, saying the cat is spiteful, etc).

General care and handling
  1. Hoarding.

  2. Neglect (eg, matted coats and overgrown claws).

  3. Inappropriate handling, for example, scruffing and clipnosis.

  4. Historical cat care (eg, older owners who are unwilling to adapt to new advice).

  5. Inappropriate grooming regimens of longhaired cats.

  6. Inappropriate litter hygiene (cleaning routine).

  7. Inappropriate interaction: owners not caring that their cats do not want to be picked up/cuddled, etc.

  8. Owners going on holiday, etc, and leaving cats with enough food to last them and no other care provisions in place.

  9. ‘Stealing’ other people’s cats, for example, feeding other’s cats and encouraging them into their homes can lead to obesity, unknown allergies, abandonment if ownership becomes unclear.

  10. Long-haul travel, for example, holidays, emigrating or importing ‘rescue’ cats into UK.

Media representation/cat uses
  1. Cat cafés: stressful?

  2. Inappropriate anthropomorphism (eg, social media, ‘funny’ cat videos on YouTube).

  3. Inappropriate media representation (eg, cats and cucumbers, cats in clothes).

  4. Cats as school pets.

  5. The welfare of cats used during filming (eg, stress levels, too hot under lights, excessive noise levels, long travel times, poor training, poor handling).

  6. Inappropriate messaging using cats in advertising.

  7. Cats used in circuses and shows.

  8. Cats/kittens being sold over the internet (eg, Preloved, Gumtree, Facebook).

  9. Celebrity culture reinforcing poor welfare (eg, popularising brachycephalic breeds).

  10. Social media forums where lay people offer advice (often inappropriate), discouraging owners/carers to seek expert advice.

Other issues
  1. Lack of registration requirements/compulsory microchipping which reduces abandonment.

  2. Claw caps.

  3. No clear regulatory body for behaviourists/trainers to be recognised by Defra, RCVS, etc.

  4. No clear regulation and guidelines for other industries, for example, groomers, rescue charities.

  5. Advertisement of ineffective products in major pet store chains.

  6. Religion (eg, medicine and surgery not in line with some beliefs and values).

  7. Cultural differences in relation to cats as pets.

  8. Inappropriate product messaging (eg, food bowls and mats saying ‘boss cat’).

  9. Limited research and unregulated sale and use of cat deterrents, for example, ultrasonic devices?

  10. Limited research and unregulated sale of antihunting devices, for example, bibs.

  11. Limited research on true impact of predation on wildlife (anticat lobbies, etc).

  • RCVS, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.