Dear fellow cat lovers
I am writing in response to a Daily Mirror article released 9 July 2020, questioning several of Cats Protection’s policies.
This type of one-sided article which contains several inaccuracies is not only damaging to the reputation of our charity but also hugely demoralising to the thousands of Cats Protection employees and volunteers who have been dealing with the challenges and frustrations of the COVID-19 pandemic with such fantastic dedication over the last few months.
I became a vet to help animals and have tried throughout my career to improve the quality of life of the animals under my care, so it is hard not to take this sort of criticism of Cats Protection’s work personally.
All of our cat-related policies are based on what is best for cat welfare, both on an individual level and in the wider feline population. We use scientific data and expert advice to formulate proposals which are thoroughly discussed by our Advisory Council and Trustees before becoming policy.
Our euthanasia policy is clear that we do not euthanase healthy cats – Cats Protection never puts a healthy cat to sleep. While this may seem a very simple proposition, of course there is much debate about what is considered an adequate quality of life for a cat if they are not completely healthy.
It is natural that everyone has their own views on this but as an organisation we have to have a clear position on these challenging areas, both for consistency and also to help people to decide whether they want to be aligned with us as employees, volunteers or supporters. Cats Protection’s stance is that cats should have a life worth living, not just an existence and so having a good quality of life has to be paramount. It is always sad when we part ways with volunteers or employees but we have to stay true to what we believe is right for cats.
We try to be objective in our decision-making about cat welfare. What is best for a cat from that cat’s point of view? It is easy for emotion to take over. As a vet I feel privileged and grateful that we have the opportunity to end suffering in a kind and gentle way – a ‘good death’, as euthanasia literally means. I hope I have the same type of ending.
Realistically money has to be a factor in many decisions because we don’t have endless funds and we want to help as many cats as possible. However, cat welfare is more important in our decision making than purely financial considerations.
We also have to make decisions in the context of the rehoming environment and what might be considered appropriate for an owned cat may not be appropriate for a cat confined to a pen. While we often spend considerable funds on treatment for individual cats where the prognosis is good, it is not good welfare to put an animal through extensive and sometimes distressing treatment where the outlook is poor, especially if they are not in the home environment. Cats have no concept of the future – they live in the moment so if their experience is pain and suffering, that is all they perceive, not that in three months’ time they might feel better.
Our feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) policy has been in existence for many years and has sometimes caused controversy, especially with those who may not fully understand these complex diseases. I have been a vet long enough to remember the days before there was a vaccine for FeLV. I worked in an area with a very high prevalence of this disease and on a weekly basis was presented with cats with terrible symptoms of tumours, difficulty breathing, weakness from anaemias or overwhelmed with secondary infection. The only option was euthanasia. Luckily widespread vaccination means that it is now an uncommon disease.
Most cats that are infected with FeLV are young cats that succumb fairly rapidly in a distressing manner. At Cats Protection the likelihood of finding them homes where they will not infect other cats is small and in these cases the alternative to euthanasia is to stay in isolation until they die. This is not acceptable welfare.
FIV is a very different disease from FeLV and this is why our policy is also different. Infected cats can frequently live long, good quality lives with suitable care and so, in contrast to what was reported in the Daily Mirror, we do home the majority of FIV positive cats. As a responsible organisation we do not want more cats to become infected so they must be homed indoors. A fantastic example of this is the story of Jet who was rehomed from our Bredhurst adoption centre recently through our hands-free homing initiative: https://www.cats.org.uk/cats-blog/fiv-cat-find-home-during-lockdown. However, where a domesticated, indoor home life will not be tolerated by a cat, sadly euthanasia is the better welfare option.
Feral cats should never be confined for more than the absolute minimum of time, for example for neutering or very minor treatments. True feral cats are considered wild animals and cannot and should not be handled directly as it is stressful for them and dangerous for the handler. Confinement for several days is, in effect torture for a feral cat.
At Cats Protection we trap feral cats with humane traps as part of our trap, neuter, return (TNR) initiatives. They are then anaesthetised by a vet who gives them health checks, neuters them and carries out any other procedures such as blood sampling, all at the same time to keep stress to a minimum.
Blood testing of high risk cats for FeLV and FIV is done with a test at the surgery using a specific piece of kit so the results are obtained very quickly (while the cat is still asleep) rather than sending a sample to a lab. If the cat tests positive to either disease we feel it is in the best interests of both the individual cat, their colony and other cats that might be infected by them, that they are euthanased while still asleep. It is also impossible to give a feral cat the sort of veterinary support that an owned FIV cat would benefit from and as a result a feral cat with the virus will suffer once they become immune-suppressed.
I would like to personally thank the many branches, centres and individuals who have been so supportive since the release of the recent Daily Mirror article. Working with animals is not all about playing with fluffy, healthy kittens; it often means having to make difficult and emotionally draining decisions. However, if we continue to stay focused on the highest standards of feline welfare, we will be doing what is right for Cats Protection and most importantly right for the cats.
Director of Veterinary Services