Friday 25 December 2020

Cat micro-chipping to be compulsory in UK but who will enforce it?

The UK government has been discussing the mandatory microchipping of domestic cats for a long time. It makes sense and surveys indicate that the citizens of the UK want compulsory micro-chipping. The current government minister who can introduce a bill for compulsory micro-chipping is Lord Goldsmith who failed to get a seat in the Commons but who was appointed a peer by Boris Johnson. He wanted to keep him in the government. One reason is probably because Boris Johnson's fianc├ę is Carrie Symonds and as you probably know by now she is very much an environmentalist and an animal welfare advocate. She is a member of a campaign group called Oceana. She speaks a lot about cleaning up the oceans and her presence at the centre of government, in effect, is very welcome for animal advocates. I'm sure that she together with Lord Goldsmith with whom she is friends decided to attempt again to get through Parliament a bill which would make cat microchip in compulsory. It is long overdue but the practicalities are a constant headache.

Having announced that the UK government would be introducing a bill next year, the veterinarians of the UK came out vociferously against it. This is despite the fact that the animal welfare charities and the animal rescue centre such as Cats Protection and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home were very much for such a bill because they would hope that it would reduce the number of unwanted cats in their shelters. When obligatory microchipping came out for dogs in 2016 there was a massive surge in micro-chipping. Nobody appears to have complained about that project but the veterinarians are fearful that if they become obliged to police compulsory micro-chipping cats it will take them away from their core work which is more profitable or should be.

I think their big worry is that the government wants veterinarians to be the front line of this project to both deliver the microchips to cats and then participate in a nationwide registration process and indeed an enforcement process which may be quite time laborious and labour-intensive. They also believe, through the president of their association, that micro-shipping does not necessarily enhance animal welfare. The spokesperson said that there would be more disputes about ownership of cats because of microchipping and that this could lead to the euthanasia of cats at shelters.

What they are alluding to is the situation whereby a cat is brought to a shelter and a microchip has not been updated for instance so the shelter cannot ascertain the owner's name and address or contact details. The cat is then adopted by a thirds party at which point the original owner comes forward having discovered that their cat is at the shelter only to find that they've lost their animal to a new adopter. A dispute commences in which the shelter is the referee. Nobody is happy about that and the outcome is uncertain. In the past when shelters have been in this invidious position they have felt obliged not to disclose to the original owner the new owner's contact details on privacy grounds. This ends up with a deadlock and the genuine owner being unable to reclaim their cat.

In that instance the animal welfare issues are limited except that the cat becomes the centre of a tug-of-war. It is hard, however, to equate poorer animal welfare with micro-chipping. I disagree with the veterinarians. Microchipping is known to help with the reunification of last animals with their owners. This clearly helps improve animal welfare. The bottom line is that the veterinarians are fearful about their income which is constantly under stress.

I suspect that they feel they deserve more than they are paid because they are as qualified as human doctors. Indeed they can call themselves doctors but they cannot get parity with human doctors in terms of salary. This means they constantly try to improve their profit margins as independent veterinary practices or sometimes they sell-out to big veterinary chains in order to improve their income. The fact of the matter is that human doctors are paid by the NHS (tax payers' money) whereas all veterinarians are paid privately which invariably means that money is tighter. That's the root cause of their objection to compulsory micro-chipping in my opinion.

There are some more points to make about micro-chipping. Although it is highly useful it is not entirely safe because you inject quite a large object under the skin of a cat. This can cause injury on the injection and the microchip can move sometimes. And there is always the ongoing issue of microchip data not being updated which nullifies their efficiency. Finally, the registration of microchips is a private affair. It is not a government run operation and therefore these businesses are constantly changing name or going bust or being reformed et cetera. This scrambles, in my opinion, the registration process. 

Or at least it muddies the water and makes things more complicated. These are the downsides, the biggest of which is how to enforce compulsory micro-chipping. Let's think about it. A cat owner does not microchip her cat. The cat is never ill so for years she would be in breach of the law. If she was caught she would be subject to a fine of perhaps £500 but she's never caught because no one knows whether a cat living in a home is microchipped or not. A lot of people don't take their cat to a veterinarian for many years so even if a veterinarian was charged with enforcing the law they wouldn't know about the cat. That's the kind of problem the government is up against in practical terms.

Wednesday 16 December 2020

Coronavirus pandemic has facilitated the sale of kittens online

Because of social distancing and an increased fear of contracting the Covid-19 virus, doors have been opened to unscrupulous kitten and cat sellers who exclusively ply their trade online. It is very dangerous to purchase a kitten online without visiting the breeder at their home and watching the interactions between kitten and mother and asking questions of the breeder. There is no shortcut to this and if you simply select online you really do not know what you are buying for sure.

This is a 5 week old kitten but not Lola mentioned below. Photo: Martin.

As the head of advocacy and government relations at Cats Protection, Jacqui Cuff said, "The Covid-19 pandemic has created the ideal conditions for unscrupulous sellers to thrive, as they appear to have a credible reason for not allowing buyers to view the kitten with their mother first".

It is very difficult for buyers of kittens online to be sure of the kitten's background and health. You simply cannot buy a kitten sight unseen and judging their health and welfare from a photograph online which is often of poor quality. I know people are very keen to adopt pets at the moment for companionship but it is easy to be scammed and the UK is full of scammers believe me. There has been a surge in puppy adoptions for instance and a lot of scammers are in the dog marketplace too.

It can lead to real problems both for the adopter and the kitten or cat. A story highlights this. It concerns a kitten sold online whose name is Lola. She was advertised in October for £200 and it was said that she was 10 weeks of age. She was purchased but the new owner who gave her up to Cats Protection. That early abandonment of itself is instructional. It's points to what I would call impulse buying of a sentient being. This is always very unwise because it's a lifelong commitment. We know that.

It was discovered by Cats Protection staff that Lola was five weeks old when she was sold which is far too young and which may result in behavioural problems due to early weaning. She's been rehomed at nine weeks old but it's just another example of an unscrupulous seller lying.

All the people in the know say that if you want to adopt a cat you must visit the person who is transferring the cat to you either free of charge or for sale. And you have to be sure what you're doing. You have to ask yourself whether you are adopting for the lifetime of the cat and if you can't answer that question in the affirmative then you should stop. Cats are quite expensive to keep. You must have some money in the bank and an income otherwise it is not going to work out very well if at all.

Tuesday 8 December 2020

Do owners of full-time indoor cats do enough to satisfy their cat's feeding requirements?

Cats confined to the indoors are dependent upon their owners entirely when it comes to feeding. The way a domestic cat feeds should reflect how their wild ancestor feeds. It is also said that cats naturally eat several small meals per day. The feeding of domestic cats, confined to the indoors, should try and introduce some sort of hunting behaviour which is perhaps attempted with food puzzles. I don't believe in food puzzles because they don't work as far as my cats are concerned but they do attempt to replicate hunting prey. In other words it's an attempt for a full-time indoor cat to feed naturally.

Are some dry cat food pellets toos small promoting swallowing without chewing? Image: PoC.

The feeding of a domestic cat should promote their physical and mental/behavioural health and they should be given a choice to allow them to find what they like best. Choice is a massive factor in the feeding of domestic cats in my view. I strongly believe in having a selection of foods with which I can provide my cat. I know that he likes variety and change.

Note: the link in the tweet above no long works as free access which is disappointing but the feeder is interesting.

Free feeding from a permanently available dry cat food bowl is perhaps the most common way that we feed cats. It's okay provided the cat doing the free feeding is not putting on weight or has gained weight and is classified as obese and is provided with alternatives which must be wet foods to compensate for the lack of moisture in dry cat food. Domestic cats do drink more water when they eat dry foods but it is strongly argued that they do not compensate adequately and therefore they can maintain a state of mild dehydration about which the owner is unaware and which has a slightly damaging effect on the cat's health.

The point of this short post is to say that it is fine to keep your cat indoors all the time in the interest of safety but you can't, I believe, do it casually. It places an added burden upon the cat's human caretaker in terms of feeding arrangements and entertainment. It is much harder to create a natural environment for a cat indoors and if you don't there might be health consequences for the cat. They can become bored, obese and mildly depressed at best. They become stifled but they accept it and adapt to it. But it is not a full life.

The alternative, to allow a cat outside is perhaps equally bad because of the dangers outside. This is a great dilemma for cat owners because neither option is entirely satisfactory. Does this not point to the elephant in the room? The inbuilt partial failure of cat domestication. 

Domestic cats need vertical spaces and places

Domestic cats need vertical spaces and places. This is a good example. The cat's owner describes it as an act of wanton destruction and in some ways it is but it is not wanton. It is simply an example of a domestic cat trying to find something to climb because it comes entirely instinctively to them. We all know it by now or should do that domestic cats like to live in vertical spaces as well as horizontal spaces. It appears, and I have to make a presumption which may be unfair, that in this home the owner has not provided sufficient vertical spaces for their cat to enjoy. And of course I'm talking about those cat trees that are so common and popular and which can buy on Amazon. Or you can make your own if you are handy with carpentry. Jackson Galaxy has talked a lot about making your home more cat friendly. He calls it "catification" as you may know. He likes to make up his own language to describe the world of domestic cats.
I put myself in that bracket of people who don't do enough to accommodate domestic cat behaviour fully. Of course I've got many things which help him to enjoy himself but what I should do is to build some climbing frames all around the walls with little caves near the ceiling where he would no doubt spend many happy hours. Not many people want to disfigure the interior of their homes in this way in the interests of domestic cat welfare but they should if their aesthetic sensibilities allow it. It all goes back to the domestic cat's wildcat ancestor who is a good climber. The North African wildcat lives on the ground and in trees to a certain extent. They are primarily ground dwelling creatures but are excellent climbers when needs must. Perhaps the best species of cat in respect of climbing is the small margay which lives primarily in South America in dense forest where they spend most of their time in trees. These are arboreal cats - cats that live in trees. Of the big cats, the magnificent leopard is perhaps the best climber. Their enormous ability and strength allows them to climb into trees with the entirety of a prey item. It is completely awesome. I have a cat tree at home but perhaps the home of the cat we see in the video needs something tall and strong which this domestic cat can climb up and enjoy.

Thursday 3 December 2020

Extreme cat television

Cat television is when domestic cats spend a lot of time looking out the window. It's a great way for a domestic cat to entertain themselves because a lot happens outside the window in terms of animals that they might chase and hunt. This cat has taken cat television to an extreme level as he rests against a Venetian blind looking very comfortable despite being precariously balanced. It's a testament to the athletic ability of the domestic cat as well as his fascination with the outside. He is probably an indoor cat.

Well, I'm sorry but the video which was published on Twitter no longer works because the person who published it on Twitter has been removed from the website. Therefore the video which was charming does not work on this site. It depicted a ginger tabby cat, the one you see in the picture below, wedging himself in between a Venetian blind and a sash window so that he could look out of it. It was athletic and a committed attempt to do a bit of feline television. That's my description and is the best I can deliver to you in lieu of the video. Once again I'm sorry.

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