AWF: Would you want to be a 21st century cat?


This talk begins with a question

‘What expectations are placed on cats?’

The three most important ones according to prospective cat owners are: –

  • Appearance
  • Behaviour
  • Lifestyle

We are asked to hold in our minds the five welfare needs of animals. These are: –

  • Environment-the need for a suitable one
  • Diet-the need for a suitable diet
  • Behaviour-the need to be able to express normal behaviour
  • Companionship-the need to live with, or apart from other animals.

Human expectations of appearance lead to problems, particularly with brachycephalic cats. They may have breathing problems, eye inflammation, skin infections, difficulty in eating and an increasingly sedentary life style associated with the above. Pictures of Persian cats and their skulls are depicted illustrating the above points. Scottish fold cats, increasingly popular, have a multitude of problems. These include dental abnormalities, abnormal bone development and arthritis, new bone formation, the stiffness of limbs and gait, mutation of cartilage and resulting pain and discomfort.

With 10% of UK cats being pedigree we are starting to see trends of exaggerated physical traits more usual in pedigree dogs.

Hybrid cats such as domestic cats crossed with wild Asian leopard cats are being advertised on the internet and there are considerable problems with this cross including different gestation periods and often stillborn or stunted kittens. Very high sums of money are changing hands. Why is this? Status? Appearance? Desirability? We need to know in order to try to change perceptions.

Many of these cats have behavioural problems making them unsuitable as pets.

The speaker makes the point that breeding has done very little over many years to change behaviour in comparison to changing appearance. Lack of socialisation (ideal between 2 and 7 weeks) is a common problem leading to behavioural abnormalities ensuring that the ability to express normal behaviour, one of the 5 AWNs, is compromised.

Cats by nature prefer their own company and, if they associate in groups, they choose with whom to socialise. There is a whole host of problems associated with the artificial situation when cats are housed together with their housemates chosen for them. An interesting statistic quoted here is that approximately 21% of cats, (2.3 million), is living with another cat they don’t get on with.

Taken together, in some instances none of the 5Awns is met.

There are some positives, however. Neutering programmes have been highly successful with 92% of owned cats having been neutered. There is also an advance in the number of cat-friendly clinics in the UK (some 400-with over 2,000 worldwide).

The audience was left with two questions for discussion.

What does the future hold for cats?

How can we produce cats that are both physically and behaviorally suitable to be pet cats?

Some of the questions provoking discussion included: –

How to reconcile hunting with pressure on wildlife? Should we stop re-homing poorly socialised farm cats? Are we doing enough to educate owners about brachycephalic cats?