Welfare of cats: protection from pain and disease

Cats feel pain and it is believed that they have similar pain thresholds to people. However, individual cats and different breeds may show pain and suffering in different ways.

Signs of illness or pain

Cats feel pain and have similar pain thresholds to people. Individual cats show that they are in pain, frightened or suffering in different ways. For example, some cats become withdrawn and hide or change their eating and drinking habits, but others become aggressive or restless.

Others develop unwanted habits, such as spraying or not using the litter tray. Other signs that your cat may be suffering from long-term stress include high levels of grooming or pulling hair out, withdrawal and a hunched posture. Cats that are insecure or stressed for long periods are more likely to become unwell.

Cats benefit from regular health care. Long-haired cats and some others need help with grooming to avoid matting in their coat.

Cats are vulnerable to diseases

Cats are vulnerable to a range of infectious diseases and other illnesses. They need vaccination to protect them from serious infectious diseases. Nosodes (homeopathic remedies) are an alternative to vaccination. Signs of illness include sudden changes in behaviour, such as restlessness and crying, or becoming quiet and withdrawn.

Cats may stop grooming when ill and any changes in eating and drinking habits, such as lack of appetite or too much drinking, may suggest problems.

Changes in weight, either up or down should be investigated. Signs of injury include swellings, limping and evidence of pain, such as sensitivity to the touch. Other signs of illness include discharges from the eyes, ears or nose, difficulty with toilet behaviour, or sickness and diarrhoea. Cats that have eaten corrosive or poisonous substances often salivate excessively.

A cat which goes outside, and which can be easily identified (for example by microchip), is more likely to be reunited with its owner if injured or lost. It is more likely to receive the prompt veterinary treatment it needs if injured.

Cat neutering

Many people choose to have their cat neutered. A vet can give advice about the age at which cats can be neutered and the health benefits of neutering. Un-neutered cats are more likely to fight, to catch some diseases as a result of fighting, and to be lost or run over whilst roaming.

TNR (trap, neuter, return) programmes

Cats Protection helps to neuter thousands of cats every year.  In addition to owned cats, last year it helped neuter over 28,000 feral cats through its TNR (trap, neuter, return) programmes. On farms, small holdings and stables these cats are valued as workers who help keep down vermin levels and will protect grain and feed.

Feral cats, or those born wild, are equally protected in law as domestic cats and simply removing feral cats from an area isn't a long-term solution. TNR is the most effective way of controlling feral cat populations. This is due to the vacuum effect, whereby if a feral colony is removed from an area then another colony will simply move in and use the available resources.  Neutering will help keep the colony healthier and so more effective at vermin control. Once neutered feeding will also ensure they are more effective, particularly during winter.

Cats Protection can help towards the cost of neutering a feral colony provided the cats are returned to their original site. Local TNR volunteers may also be available to provide practical assistance (dependent on workload at the time).

For more information on the TNR programmes and feral neutering, please phone the Cat Protection helpline:

  • phone: 03000 12 12 12 - choosing option two  - lines open from 9.30 am to 1.00 pm

For more information go to Feral cats

Cat protection

Cats often enter puberty at a very young age and unplanned early breeding may result in welfare problems. If you decide to breed your cat, a vet can give advice about the risks of inherited conditions that could affect the health of the kittens.

To make sure your cat is protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease, you should:

  • contact your vet and follow the advice you are given, if you notice changes in your cat’s behaviour, including its eating habits
  • check your cat for signs of injury or illness regularly and make sure someone else does this if you are away
  • examine your cat closely, including its coat, which should also be checked for fleas or parasites - preventative measures should be taken if suitable
  • have your cat screened for genetic conditions that may be common to the breed
  • check your cat for good dental hygiene
  • arrange a health check by a vet for cats that develop inflamed gums, deposits on their teeth or bad breath
  • contact a vet quickly and follow veterinary advice about its treatment, if you suspect that your cat is in pain, ill or injured
  • try to minimise fear and stress in your cat’s daily life - by doing so you will decrease its risk of certain illnesses
  • take the advice of your vet on how often your cat needs a health check, and about the things you can do to protect your cat’s health
  • realise your vet is the best person to advise you about routine preventive healthcare, such as vaccination, neutering and treatments to control parasites (for example, fleas and worms), as well as how to deal with any current health problems your cat may have
  • make sure that you groom your cat without causing distress if it needs help with the care of its coat - if you are uncertain, ask your vet about grooming your cat and how often you should do this
  • only use medicines and drugs that have been prescribed for your individual cat - human products and medicines intended for other animals can be dangerous to cats and sometimes fatal
  • always contact your vet immediately if you are concerned that your cat has come into contact with any chemical or other substance that could be harmful
  • be aware that cats regularly groom themselves and may ingest or come into contact with a poisonous substance when doing so
  • make sure your cat can be identified so that it can be treated quickly if injured when away from home, or returned to you if lost
  • make sure any collars fit properly and are not harmful and, if using a microchip as a form of identification, remember to keep the microchip database correct with any changes in your contact details
  • seek the advice of a vet before allowing your cat to breed
  • take all reasonable steps to make sure that you will be able to find homes for kittens

Unwanted kittens should never be drowned.

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