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Cat feeding - can you handle the responsibility?

Written By: Jane Davidson RVN

If you’ve failed to notice, it’s summer! It’s been will may still be properly hot, there are (sometimes) beautiful blue skies and ironically it’s this time of year when we often leave our lovely country and go on holiday abroad!

For our pets it doesn’t really matter where we are going - if it means you need to use kennels, catteries or pet sitters, there is a big change in routine for them.

This might be obvious for you as a pet owner and you probably plan your pets holiday needs as much as your own, but what about your neighbours? Do they know if you are away and the impact it might have? If they see your cat around more often what will they do?

To feed or not to feed?

I’m sure we’ve all been in the situation where a cat has appeared in our garden or at our place of work that isn’t ours, and it hangs about looking cute - or hungry. This isn’t our cat but it’s come into our space and very quickly we can feel a connection or a responsibility for it.

If the cat appears healthy and just seems to be enjoying the space, or it wants to make friends with you it starts to become part of your day. Must of us are caring people and the urge to feed this new feline visitor can be really strong! During the holiday season our routines often vary and so our cats’ behaviour may change. They might roam further afield, or if a local cat is away at a cattery they might visit new gardens usually off limits to them.

However as a vet nurse who has worked in charity practices with rehoming branches:

I would really urge you this summer to Please Don’t Feed That Cat!

Let’s define a ‘stray cat’

I know this may surprise some people, surely putting a bit of food down is good for the cat? It might be hungry, it might be stray, it’s obviously not in its own garden so you’re helping aren’t you?

Well, you might be but in most cases you may be making the cat’s life (and potentially its owners’) more complex and could even result in that cat being incorrectly identified as a stray.

Lets define what constitutes a genuinely stray or ownerless cat and see what happens when you start feeding new cat visitors.

The major charities in the UK for feline welfare - the RSPCA and Cats Protection - both advise:

Ill/injured/pregnant/nursing cats

  • First contact should be the RSPCA or your local Cat Protection centre to get advice on what to do, depending on the situation.

Neutered healthy cats

  • If you can, take them to your local vets to be scanned for a chip, if they persist in staying in your garden when they normally don’t.

In all these situations it is advisable to not feed the cat until you know what is going to happen with them. For feral or nursing cats you may need to feed them at certain times and in certain places to enable them to be trapped, so they can be helped.

For neutered healthy cats feeding them will encourage them to stay in your garden or workplace and you may be interfering with their current diet or medication. Are you ready to take all responsibility for this cat as if it was your own? It might only be enjoying your space as the usual cat that uses it is away – even cats have holiday plans!

Are you a responsible person?

You also need to ask yourself if you wish to or are able to become the ‘responsible person’ for this cat. A Responsible Person is defined as someone who accepts responsibility for the welfare of the cat even if they are not the owner.

This means you take care of all aspects of the cats care – including vet care. As the recent PAW Report suggested, cats cost around £70 per month to care for. So, the odd sachet of cat food you buy to feed your furry visitor might start to cost you a whole lot more.

But it’s only a bit of food?

All too often people start to feed a local cat, that number grows as all the local cats realise there’s an easy food source. This leads to a change in their pattern of behaviour and can cause a lot of stress.

Cats aren’t social feeders like dogs and don’t really want to share their space that much. Remember, in this situation, the bits of food you put down might not go to the cat you wanted to help and can cause stress symptoms and fights.

In the UK where there is often microchipping of cats and there are charities to trap, neuter, release and monitor feral strays there really shouldn’t be a need to feed any new cat visitors.

If you are concerned for a cat’s welfare you can follow the guidelines above and help at the start, rather than confuse the poor cat. Please don’t give them a new food source they probably don’t need, and save its owners the heartbreak of losing their cat.

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