The UK’s leading cat charity says that social media platforms such as TikTok and Facebook are allowing the publication of harmful content as entertainment.
It says the rise of animal trends such as #petchallenge have blurred the lines between victimless candid moments caught on camera and very real pet abuse.
The charity cites examples such as TikTok hosting thousands of videos of users partaking in challenges such as repeatedly tapping a pet to a tune to see how long the animal takes to become visibly upset, putting sellotape on a cat’s feet to film their distressed reaction, donning masks to film a pet’s petrified response, forcing their ears into tight headbands and more.
“Animals are not here for our entertainment and whilst it may appear harmless to involve them in these trends, the level of psychological trauma and extreme stress being inflicted on them is vast,” said Nicky Trevorrow, Cats Protection’s Behaviour Manager.
“Younger generations in particular don’t always understand that what they are watching, sharing and posting is cruel. By allowing the publication of this type of content, social media platforms are nomalising abuse and sending the message that it’s okay and funny to treat an animal like this.”
Another example the charity cites is a TikTok video entitled: ‘Which of my cats will tolerate this trend the best?’, following which the user proceeds to force each of her cats to uncomfortably dance to a song.
“Dressing cats up, playing loud noises, slapping and pushing them or forcing them to partake in a challenge is not acceptable,” says Nicky Trevorrow.
“The more users are exposed to this type of animal content, the more they are desensitised to increasingly worse forms of animal abuse.”
Cruelty to animals is a criminal offence. Cats Protection was involved in the recent successful campaign to get the maximum penalty for animal cruelty raised from six months to five years and/or an unlimited fine. This change highlights how cruelty to animals is taken very seriously and is no longer socially acceptable.
For this reason, Cats Protection is urging social media users and pet lovers to take the time to educate themselves on animal stress and just how harmful this type of content can be. Users can report posts and videos to social media platforms for review. The charity would also urge social media platforms to ensure content which shows animal abuse is removed and reported to the relevant authorities.
The public can learn to recognise signs of distress in cats - such as crouching, ears back and dilated pupils - by visiting Cats Protection’s Stress Hub. Alternatively, savvy social media users can learn firsthand from Cats Protection’s own social channels, which focus on educating audiences about a cat’s natural behaviour as well as important welfare standards. To learn more about how you can be welfare aware check out the charity’s TikTok page.