The UK’s Animal Welfare Act 2006 places a legal duty of care upon the owners or keepers of cats (and other animals) to provide the basic necessities of an animal’s welfare. The term ‘responsible ownership’ underwrites everything from food to vaccinations and positive social interaction.
Most of us mistake a cat’s lack of a need for affection as cold and independent (which is one of the reasons most of us choose dogs as pets), but cats love interaction: they are not solitary creatures!
Cats need to feel that they are loved, and they don’t like to be left alone for long periods of time. Scratching posts, toys and comfort are just some of the things your feline friend will enjoy.
Here are the five elements of the Welfare Act that apply to any pet. These five basic needs are what you are expected to provide for your cat:
- Maintenance of health
- Control of behaviour
- Nutritional needs
Let’s have a look in more detail at these fundamental care tips:
1. Maintenance of health
Vaccinations are an important part of cat ownership and pet care. Kittens should be vaccinated at about nine weeks old and they should have a second lot of jabs roughly three weeks from their first lot. Your cat needs ‘booster’ vaccinations throughout his life. Your vet tells you when these should take place but a booster is usually done annually.
Cat vaccinations do not protect against parasites such as worms and ticks. Separate medicines are prescribed for such parasites and flea protection. Kittens need to be wormed every fortnight until they are 12 weeks old and monthly after that until the age of six months. It is recommended that cats are wormed every three months for the duration of their life.
It is also your responsibility to look after your cat if he is injured or becomes poorly. Some vet’s practices will charge for treatments at a subsidised rate for people on low incomes. Pet insurance covers some ailments and injuries.
2. Control of behaviour
Any animal under your care should be trained and behave according to what is culturally acceptable. A dog or cat that is a danger to people or is clearly uncontrolled can be by law euthanized for the benefit of society. It is therefore especially important that the way you treat your cat engenders the animal’s calmest side and its best features.
Antisocial behaviour of cats and dogs is said to be on the most part due to the behaviour of the owner. If you mistreat your pet he will become agitated and aggressive, but if you treat him in a sensible, loving and confident manner he becomes more docile and manageable.
Castration and spaying of male and female cats is recommended for owners that do not intend to breed them. Neutering is the best way to reduce instances of fighting and territorial behaviour; it can also solve some problems surrounding cat litter. Neutering should take place before the cat reaches its fifth month.
How you physically interact with your cat is important. You should learn how to correctly pick up your cat, but you should also get him used to being picked up by others. There are plenty of opportunities presented to owners of kittens and cats to have their animals meet other animals in a safe environment.
This socialisation is an essential part of a cat development and ensures that they grow up able to engage with other cats and humans without too much trouble.
To pick up your cat, place one hand behind the front legs and another under the hindquarters and lift. Be gentle with your cat and never pick him up by the scruff of his neck.
4. Nutritional needs
Cats are carnivores and require a specially formulated food in order to survive. A good-quality cat food is one of the most important expenses you should not spare. You can prevent malnourishment and obesity by proper attention to the content of the food.
Cat food that is substandard contains fewer nutrients and more water. There are a myriad of cat food formulae on the market and most are targeted to cats by age, gender and the condition of the animal’s health. You should also make sure your cat always has access to a bowl of fresh water.
Cats love treats and you can treat your cat from time to time with something other than cat food but beware that some human foods such as grapes and chocolate are toxic to cats. Cats are not vegetarian nor are they omnivores; their stomach and digestive tract do not respond well to anything less than animal protein (they shouldn’t even have milk).
All animals (including us) need a place to bed down for the night and to shelter from the weather. What we call our home – the place we invite our pets to stay – should be safe. A cat’s home should be comfortable and calm; ideally your cat should also have its own area in the house to which it can go to use its litter tray. This should not be in the same place of its food and water bowl.
A cat requires comfort. He needs to be made to feel at home and should have what he needs in order to feel happy, including his own bed and easy access to a litter box. Line your cat's bed with a clean, soft, warm blanket or towel. Consider also buying a scratching post and interactive toys to make your cat feel even more at home.
Every animal has fundamental needs, and when we are entrusted with the care of a cat it is our responsibility to make sure those needs are met. The most important element of cat care is the prevention and treatment of diseases and the treatment of injuries and sickness. To be vigilant of your cat’s health at all times will prevent him from unnecessary suffering and will ensure that he lives and full and happy life.