If you’re reading this page, the chances are you’re either already a good cat owner, or that you love cats and would like to be a good cat owner, or you have been a good cat owner in the past. (Apologies for saying ‘cat owner’ several times, we all know that we don’t own cats, and that they own us, but you get what I mean).
But, no matter how much we love our cats, there will be times when we may doubt some of the decisions we make regarding the puss and their welfare. And we may wonder if we’re really doing the best thing for them. That’s natural, and it’s because we love them so much and want them to have their very best life.
So, if you’ve ever had any of these types of questions in your head, you’re not alone:
- am I feeding her the right food?
- is it cruel that I keep him as an indoor cat
- she looks so lonely on her own, should I have chosen two cats and not just one?
- have I made things worse by not taking him to the vets sooner?
The answers to those questions will depend on your circumstances, and your cat, but it’s likely you’re doing everything as best as you possibly can. Whenever I go on a guilt trip about something I have or haven’t done for my cat, I think of five welfare needs that my cats deserve to be met, and always feel reassured we’re doing ok. And I’m sure if you look at them too, you’ll feel the same about you and your beloved pets.
The five welfare needs are covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and guide us as to our duty of care to our cats and other animal species.
As long as what you’re doing is meeting these needs, and you’re doing the absolute best you can, you are indeed a good cat owner.
A good cat owner provides a suitable environment and place to live
Although cats often act as divas, nonchalant and a little bit snooty, they’re actually fairly easily pleased. They ultimately just want to feel safe, be warm / cool (depending on the weather and climate), have somewhere comfy to sleep, have access to food and water, be dry, have somewhere to go to toilet, have toys to keep them stimulated and active… you get the drift. Basically, puss will love your home as long as all of those things apply and they have you at their beck and call.
You may feel sad because you can’t give them that lovely, soft cat bed you’ve seen online. But believe me, you’ll unpack the expensive purchase and, whilst putting it together or placing it somewhere safe, your cat will have climbed into the box, curled up, and gone to sleep. A cheap, home-made option will do just as well, because it’s safe and comfortable.
Feeling safe also means having somewhere safe to hide if needed. Nothing fancy, under the bed is a great hidey place. And, somewhere high up so they can spot an imminent attack by something like a vacuum cleaner or other pet (a cat tower is great, but so is the top of a wardrobe). They like to view their surroundings, and keep an eye on the minions (i.e. us humans and pesky fur siblings). They just want to feel loved, safe and fed.
Let your cat be a cat…
Another one of the welfare needs is: the need to exhibit normal behaviour patterns. In other words, your cat should be able to behave like a cat should. For example, we all know that cats are quite fussy sometimes when it comes to where they do their business – if outdoors, they’ll search for the prefect place, scratch around for what seems like ages, do what they need to do, then spend ages again covering it over. Let them. It’s their normal behaviour.
If they’re indoor cats, make sure they have a clean litter tray to use (preferably more than one – the advice is always to have one per cat plus one), and that it is somewhere private and safe. They’re at their most vulnerable when toileting, so keep a litter tray away from a doorway where a human or other animal could suddenly appear just as they’re about to poop.
If you’re worried that keeping a cat indoors is cruel or not, this is the welfare need that makes us question it the most. There’s no doubt that a cat’s normal behaviour is to be outdoors, stalking prey, laying in the sunshine, chasing mice. But, it’s not always possible, or safe, to let them do that.
This is a decision that only you can make. Just because they’re indoor cats doesn’t mean that you stop them from exhibiting normal behaviours. Let them chase toy mice. Play with them often. Entertain them with feathers on sticks or string to chase. Provide them with a cat tower so they can climb (as they would a tree) and have a great view over their domain. Hide treats in places where they have to search to be rewarded. Let them roam the house at nights, and let them look out of the windows. It’s not quite the same as being outdoors, but they’ll be ok.
Keep them either housed with, or apart from, other animals
Many animals like to be housed with others, but cats? Not always, they’re actually quite solitary animals. They can fool us into thinking they’re best mates with their annoying furry siblings, or the cat next door, but quite often they’re just tolerating each other.
What this means is, don’t ever feel guilty if your cat is your ‘only fur child’. It may be more a problem for you than it is for them. And likewise, don’t feel bad if you have two, three or more cats together.
If they all get on, great. If not, they’ll tolerate each other for your benefit and let you believe you have a happy brood…
Provide a suitable diet
A good cat owner should provide their cat with a diet that’s suitable for their age and needs. Whether wet or dry is up to you and your cat. There’s many arguments for both, but as long as you follow these rules, it’s all good:
- It’s cat food
- It’s for the correct age of cat
- It’s the right quantity and provided regularly (dependant on age and health)
Plus, water! Cats need access to clean water. Yes, they seem to prefer this from a human’s glass or the sink… and some rarely seem to drink at all. But they must have access to it.
A good cat owner protects their pet
The final welfare need is for animals to be protected from pain, injury, suffering and disease.
As cat lovers we love our pets so much that we can have a tendency to overly worry sometimes about their health, searching the internet in a panic, thinking the worse, rushing them to the vets. The thought of letting them be in pain and suffer is unbearable. So, if you’re a good cat owner, meeting this welfare need is a given.
Regularly handling the cat allows you to check for lumps and bumps, scratches or bites, fleas and ticks, sources of pain. (Easier if your pet is a fuss-pot, not as easy if they’re a diva who only lets you touch them on their terms!). If you find something? Pop them along to the vets. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
This welfare need is all about not letting them suffer, or deteriorate, so keep up to date with vaccinations, flea treatment and worming. Yep, stating the obvious, I know! But that’s because you’re a good cat owner.
If you love cats, you’re bound to be a great cat owner / wanna be cat owner / cat friend. Don’t beat yourself up if sometimes you get things wrong, because you’re sure to be doing the best you can. And, as long as the welfare needs are taken care of, your cat will still love you, and you’ll still love your cat.
Give puss a good & safe home, let your feline friend ‘be a cat’, try to faciliate the relationship they have with any other furry siblings or the neighbood ‘street cat’ gang, feed him or her the right food & water, make sure they’re microchipped and have their vaccinations and check ups, and straight to the vet if you’re worried. And, everyone will be happy!