Saturday, 24 December 2016

Happy Christmas

Merry Christmas to all our supporters, volunteers and staff! Thanks to you, we’ve helped thousands of cats this year. We couldn’t have done it without you.

We hope you enjoy our festive animation.

Love Cats Protection (and the cats!) xxx

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Why cats hunt

In the latest video in the Simon’s Cat Logic series, creator Simon Tofield and Cats Protection’s Behaviour Manager Nicky Trevorrow have teamed up to talk about Simon’s Cat’s behaviour in the video ‘Nut Again’ and explain hunting behaviour.

Simon describes once watching his cat Teddy running down the garden after a squirrel. “I’ve never seen him run quicker – I thought ‘What’s he going for now?’ and going even faster than Teddy was a squirrel,” he says. “Seeing Teddy running after this squirrel – it made it up the tree – and Teddy went up the tree after him, I thought, I’ve got to do an idea of a cat chasing a squirrel and what can happen.”

“Cats are perfectly adapted to hunting,” says Nicky. “They have excellent eyesight so they can see in low light levels, they have really good hearing for hearing tiny little squeaks of their prey species, they’re very fast and agile and they have an excellent sense of balance.”

A cat’s hunting drive is separate to the hunger drive, so cats will hunt even if they’ve just been fed. Interactive play, with toys like a fishing rod toy, will simulate this behaviour and release feel-good hormones.

If you want to learn more about your cat’s behaviour and why they act the way they do, visit our online behaviour hub.

Is your cat a hunter? Let us know on Twitter @catsprotection and use the hashtag #SimonsCatLogic.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Furry therapists: how cats improve our lives

Listening to the heart-warming stories of the positive impacts cats and kittens have had on the lives of entrants to this year’s National Cat Awards reminds us of the many benefits that spending quality time with our feline friends can bring.

Announced as the overall winner in August’s star-studded award ceremony held at The Savoy, Tink raised the alarm when his owners’ house caught fire, ensuring they escaped from an horrific situation that could have cost them their lives. But while Tink’s heroics represent an extremely palpable — and, thankfully, rare — benefit of owning a pet, there were also many moving accounts of cats who, simply through their comforting personalities and loving natures, improved the lives of their owners.

Katie Paine with cat Skye
National Cat Awards finalist, Skye with her owner Katie; Photo: Koray Erol - Caters News
Take 15-month-old Skye, a finalist in the Most Caring Cat category. Skye's owner, Katie Paine had suffered from debilitating panic attacks and agoraphobia for 15 years, making everyday actions like collecting her children from school a terrifying prospect. 

However when Skye arrived, Katie's life was changed. Skye’s calming influence has played an important role in helping ease her depression and the moggy’s apparent instinct for knowing when she is most needed has ensured that she is always by Katie’s side at exactly the right time.

During the competition, Katie reflected on her husband, doctor and mental health worker all commenting on how much more relaxed and calm she had been since Skye arrived. She noted that she was sleeping better, enjoying going out and smiling more. “Our lives have improved no end,” Katie said, “My children are happier because I’m happier and I’m doing more things with them.”

And Katie isn't alone in feeling that her relationship with a feline friend has improved her sense of wellbeing.

A succession of scientific studies — including one carried out jointly by Cats Protection and the Mental Health Foundation in 2011 — have trumpeted the psychological and medical advantages of interaction with cats. On its website, the Mental Health Foundation lists the benefits of pet ownership for those suffering from depression and autism, children with ADHD, the elderly and people who live on their own.

One moving story of this process in action hit the national headlines earlier this year. Six-year-old Iris Grace Halmshaw  had been diagnosed with severe autism and her parents were warned that she may never be able to talk or develop relationships. After trying a number of therapies, Iris’s parents took the decision to introduce her to a Maine Coon kitten, whom they named Thula, and the transformation in her was incredible.

Thula became Iris’s constant companion. Not only did Iris talk for the first time in Thula’s presence, the kitten also helped her overcome her fear of water by sharing baths and, ultimately, swimming with her. In the same way that Skye seemed to innately understand when Katie needed her, Thula would come to Iris’s aid when she sensed she was required, even bringing her toys when she woke at night.

Iris’s mother, Arabella, who shared her daughter’s amazing story in a book, described Thula as a ‘guardian angel’. Her constant presence at Iris’s side, whether she’s sleeping, playing or reading, has brought about a change in her that few thought possible.

However, while there are many more touching stories like those of Katie, Iris and their families, we shouldn’t ignore the positive impacts moggies have on those of us who aren’t faced with such life-changing challenges — those who are simply stressed out and laid low by the everyday demands of life.

Tests have discovered that spending time with cats causes the release of the so-called 'happy hormone' oxytocin, while simultaneously reducing levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. This results in lower stress and anxiety levels, which in turn reduces blood pressure.

It’s no wonder, then, that cats and kittens are being turned to by those in high-stress environments like hospitals, workplaces and educational establishments.

There have been a number of stories in recent years of universities introducing ‘kitten rooms’ during stressful exam seasons and inviting students to sit with, stroke and talk to their furry friends. But undergraduates at the University of Southampton have taken this relationship a stage further by appointing a cat as their Student Union’s honorary president.

Named after the initials of the Union in which she has spent so much of her life, Susu has been entertaining and de-stressing students since 2002, when she first arrived on campus as a stray. Once name-checked on University Challenge, she has now been awarded the ultimate honour in return for her “contribution to reducing students’ stress levels.”

But, as deserving as they are of our adulation, cats don’t need awards or fancy titles to recognise their benefits to us super-stressed humans. Whether we’re facing seemingly-insurmountable challenges or have simply had a bad day, nature’s stress-relievers are always there for us, fixing us with the healing powers of their contented purring, soothing us with the sensation of their soft fur and comforting us simply through their presence. It’s hard to argue that cats are a breed apart!

Don’t believe us? Take a peek at our #CatTherapy video!

Friday, 16 December 2016

Railway sleepers

For most of us, visiting a train station is a purely transitory experience. It's a 'nowhere place'; an inescapable interlude that we endure because it gets us to where we want to be. For some, however, stations represent a destination — and we’re not just talking about humans.

Photo: Prandina (with modification)
In September, the Citizens Advertising Takeover Service grabbed the headlines by replacing all the advertisements at Clapham Common tube station with photographs of cats, including many waiting to be rehomed by Battersea Dogs & Cats Home and Cats Protection.

But while many busy South London commuters were undoubtedly buoyed by the fleeting appearance of 68 adorable moggies staring back at them from the station's grey walls, few would have realised just how many of their fellow train users across the UK get to experience the real thing on a daily basis.

Earlier this year, managers at Huddersfield station announced that they were promoting a member of staff that had been working at the West Yorkshire hub for five years. The fact that this was no ordinary promotion was reflected in the announcement making it onto the pages of a number of national newspapers.

Black-and-white longhair Felix had been taken on by the station in 2011 in order to resolve its rodent problems. She acquired her name before staff realised they had mistaken the gender of the then nine-week-old, but the name stuck as the popular moggy became part of the furniture. So vital has she been to the day-to-day running of the station, in fact, that when impenetrable ticket barriers were installed, they included an integrated cat flap bearing her name.

Felix's cat flap
Station renovations included Felix's own cat flap. Photo: Neil Turner via flickr / Creative Commons
Felix’s promotion to Senior Pest Controller brought with it a badge but her daily tasks remain unchanged: catching mice and brightening the lives of her 90,000 Facebook followers and the thousands of commuters that pass through the station every day.

One station with even more experience of felines than Huddersfield, meanwhile, is Kent's Tonbridge railway station. Back in 2010, an enlightening two-part feature focusing on cats residing in train stations appeared in our magazine, The Cat. It featured Jill and Louis, a pair of moggies that had become such an important part of everyday life at the station that plaques were erected in their memory after they passed away.

Since that article was written, Jill and Louis’ legacy has been continued by a black-and-white eight-year-old cat who took up residence at the station last year when her owners moved out of a nearby house. It's no great surprise that Sapphie has become a big hit with passengers at the Kentish commuter station and Southeastern Trains have even made her the star of a 90-second video that forms part of its ‘Amazing Journeys’ series.

According to the Kent Online website, Sapphie has made her home in the Station Manager’s office — the only part of the station where litter can be put down for her — and has the run of the premises. In return for being the staff’s ’little extra helper’, she is spoiled by commuters who have brought her treats and even a bed.

However while Felix was adopted by staff for a specific purpose and Sapphie found a new home with the blessing of her previous owners, a recent story in The Herts Advertiser reminds us that, while cats are often welcomed in by train station staff and commuters, their histories aren’t always straightforward.

After spending a year at St. Albans City station, ‘Brian’ is waving goodbye to the rattle of locomotives and the bustle of rush hour after staff discovered he belonged elsewhere. The black-and-white moggy turned up at the station in 2015 and, as his visits became more regular, he was greeted with food and water and allowed to sleep in the heated storeroom during the winter months.

It had been assumed that Brian belonged to owners of a nearby property and had simply come to enjoy the surroundings (and mice!) at the station. However over time it became apparent that this wasn’t the case and a member of staff decided to take him to a veterinary clinic for a check-up.

From looking at the information stored on his microchip, the vet discovered that ‘Brian’ was actually named Obama and that his true home was some 25 miles away, in London. It emerged that he had escaped three years before while his owner was visiting a relative in St. Albans and had, apparently, survived on his own until he found sanctuary at the station. While this is a happy ending – and a stark example of why microchipping pets is so important – 'Brian' is already being missed by the staff and passengers who had become used to his comforting presence.

But as the commuters of St. Albans wait patiently for their next feline traveller, it seems there are evidently many more train users in the UK enjoying the heart-warming sight of moggies mingling with staff and passengers on busy platforms. As long as they are healthy, happy and aren't being missed by their owners, it's nice to know that these 'first-class felines' are transforming tiresome train journeys across the country.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The importance of socialising your kitten

In this post, Cats Protection’s Behaviour Manager Nicky Trevorrow explains the importance of kitten socialisation.

Did you know it is important to socialise your kitten? Cat behaviour is influenced by both nature and nurture, including everything from genetics through to specific learning experiences. Because of this, preparing a kitten to cope with the challenges they will face throughout their life is vital, and has one of the most important impacts on their lifelong welfare.

The socialisation period is identified as between two to seven weeks of age. During this period, kittens learn what aspects of the environment are ‘normal’ and ‘safe.’ Equally, when they’re an adult they are likely to be scared of anything they didn’t come across during this period.

Did you know pet cats need to be socialised to humans when they're 2-8 weeks old?

Cats do not have an inbuilt need to be with people, so this is usually a learnt behaviour. Early handling by a variety of different people during this time is essential in order to socialise kittens with humans. At Cats Protection, we use a structured kitten socialisation programme developed by Dr Rachel Casey, helping kittens get used to various experiences to adapt to life in the home environment.

Socialising your kitten

Before handling the kittens, it is worth spending time with the queen or mother cat, to ensure she is familiar with the person through positive associations of gentle interaction. It is important to ensure that experiences and interactions are positive for each individual kitten.

Time spent handling each kitten can be gradually increased over successive weeks, and should ideally be carried out by a minimum of four people including men, women, children and older people. Studies show as little as 40 minutes handling a day during this period has a profound effect on the friendliness of kitten and their willingness to approach people. In addition to holding the kittens, gently performing health checks such as examining sensitive areas like the ears, feet and tail will prove invaluable later in life when the cat visits the vet.

If you’re looking for a kitten, adopt with confidence from Cats Protection. We have thousands of kittens across the UK each year, all looking for new homes.

For more information on how to care for your kitten, take a look at our online essential guide.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

‘Why doesn’t my cat purr?’ and other veterinary FAQs

In our latest live Q&A on Facebook, Cats Protection vet Dr Sarah Elliott answered a variety of veterinary questions from curious cat owners. Here are just some of the topics discussed:

Question: One of my cats has never purred… is that normal?

Answer: Cats have not been domesticated very long in terms of evolution, unlike the dog. The cat's wild ancestors would have lived solitary lives and did not need to interact with each other or to develop sophisticated vocal signals – they would have been fairly silent unless with kittens or mating! So the lack of purring may well just be normal cat behaviour for your cat.

Yawning cat
Cats should have an annual vet visit to check their teeth
Question: Can you give some tips to ensure good dental health for my cat?

Answer: All cats should have an annual vet visit to check the status of their teeth. Unfortunately even with the best diet and dental care, cats are still quite prone to dental disease. There are a number of things you can do to help keep your cat's teeth healthy.

Brushing teeth daily with a toothpaste specifically designed for cats will help to reduce the build of plaque and tartar and help to keep the gums healthy. There are a variety of toothbrushes to choose from such as finger brushes, microfibre cloths for your finger and full-length pet toothbrushes.

There are specific dental diets designed with bigger kibble available from your vets to help clean teeth, along with solutions and natural supplements to add to your cat's food and water which may help prevent dental disease.

I'd recommend speaking to your vet for more information and you may find our Teeth and Oral Health leaflet useful.

Question: My cat sneezes quite a bit but shows no other symptoms. Is he ok?

Answer: The sneezing will be down to an irritation within the nose. This could be caused by an irritant like dust, or an allergy, or an infectious agent like a viral or bacterial infection. Some cats can develop polyps or growths inside their nose – this is more common in older cats. It’s best to get him checked out to rule out something more serious, and to relieve any discomfort he may be experiencing.

Question: My cat has just turned one and she is getting a bit of a saggy belly. She eats a 400g tin of food a day. How much is healthy for her to eat daily?

Answer: How much you should feed your cat really depends on the age of the cat, whether the cat is overweight or underweight or has any particular medical requirements that may their influence diet. Most vet clinics will offer a weight clinic to help advise on the right diet for your cat and most good quality cat foods will have a feeding guide on the packaging.

For food-obsessed cats, feeding using puzzles may help. Have a look at the videos in our boredom busters playlist:

These websites have some good ideas too:

There are many ways of creating handmade feeders. Scatter feeding and tossing single treats is a start. Place food in different locations and at different heights as well.

Microchip feeders can help limit how much food your cat can eat if your cats are microchipped.

Question: I’ve noticed that my three-year-old cat is drinking a lot. Any cup you put down, he's straight in it. I have changed his food from wet to dry around one or two months ago – could this be why or is it worth a trip to the vets?

Answer: Cats have desert-dwelling ancestors and as a consequence may not feel the urge to drink as readily as we do. Cats on a wet diet will get the majority of their water from their food. It might be that you have noticed more drinking due to the change to dry food.

As a general rule, a cat’s normal water intake varies from 20-70ml per kg a day. If the drinking seems excessive, it is always worth checking this with your vet in case there is an underlying medical cause.

Veterinary note: Please note that we are unable to give specific advice on your cat's health or any change in behaviour observed. For medical problems, consult your vet who will have access to your cat's medical history and will be able to examine them.

Would you like to ask one of Cats Protection's feline experts a question about your cat? Don't miss the next live Facebook Q&A sessions: chat with Behaviour Manager Nicky Trevorrow on 22 December; or vet Dr Sarah Elliot on 26 January. All Q&As are held on Cats Protection's national Facebook page from 2-3pm. See you there!

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The purrrr behind the throne

Upon being asked to name pets from high-profile households in the United Kingdom, most people would probably picture the Queen's corgis pottering around the grounds of Buckingham Palace. However over the past six months it's been cats, rather than dogs, that have found themselves curling up on the country's seats of power.

When black-and-white longhair Gus found his forever home in September after a spell at Cats Protection's Mitcham Homing Centre, he became the latest in a growing number of moggies making the headlines for joining prominent political households.

Gus, who won the hearts of MP George Eustice and his wife Katy after making a beeline for them when they visited the centre, quickly made himself at home at the couple’s residence, with the MP for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle reflecting: “Gus, the newest addition to our family, took all of 20 minutes to settle into his new home and stretch out on the sofa. All the team at Cats Protection were fabulous. Charities like this do great work.”

Gus being collected by George Eustice MP
George Eustice MP leaving the Mitcham Homing Centre with Gus
However, the three-year-old puss was simply following in the well-trodden paw prints of a number of adopted cats who have recently reached the national consciousness through the celebrity of their political owners.

As Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mr Eustice MP would have already been familiar with Larry, the Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office. Adopted in 2011 from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home to solve number 10's rodent problem, Larry shot to fame when David Cameron, apparently stung by suggestions that Prime Minister and Prime Mouser didn't get on, name-checked the brown-and-white tabby in his final speech as PM, producing a photo showing Larry stretched across his lap as he discussed matters of state.

Presumably impressed by the fine job Larry was doing across the road, the Foreign Office adopted its own moggy. The impressively-named Palmerston, also from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, arrived on Downing Street only a couple of months before some of its more high-profile residents were moving out.

Unfortunately, like furry neighbours across the country, Palmerston and Larry have sometimes struggled to come to terms with their new situation, and their regular confrontations have been highlighted by the throng of reporters permanently stationed outside the country's most famous black door.

These altercations will have undoubtedly been stressful for both cats, but they did at least prompt a surge in nationwide interest about cat behaviour, with experts from organisations including the British Veterinary Association being invited by the world’s media to share their expertise and provide advice to owners experiencing similar situations.

Some suggested they were merely two ’social, bold and confident’ cats battling for territory while others wondered whether the disruption caused by the change of Prime Minister and subsequent Cabinet shuffle could have unsettled them.

Away from the headlines, however, the pair must have been carrying out their primary duties with aplomb as a third Whitehall department, the Treasury, also decided to adopt a cat. Pictures of 18-month-old Gladstone are regularly shared on his very own Instagram account. The black moggy even received a public welcome from his new boss, Philip Hammond, when the incoming Chancellor of the Exchequer sent him a tweet.

A photo posted by Gladstone (@treasury_cat) on

With the increasing number of pusses padding around Whitehall – there have been rumours swirling since August that the Cabinet Office are considering adopting a moggy who will go by the name Cromwell – it seems that staff at the Houses of Parliament are beginning to feel a little left out and the request to ‘get us a cat’ scrawled on a poster advising on how to address the building's rodent problems is perhaps understandable.

Whether or not we'll soon see another political puss warming up the benches of Westminster is anyone’s guess. However, it's great to see politicians setting a good example by adopting their feline colleagues – especially black and black-and-white ones, who tend to get overlooked by many potential owners.

In the meantime, Larry, Palmerston and Gladstone will continue carrying out their vital ministerial paw-tfolios, which will presumably include exerting their stress-busting influence over Whitehall residents with demanding jobs.

As Rosie King, the Deputy Manager at Cats Protection’s Mitcham Homing Centre, observed about gorgeous Gus: "Like many cats, Gus has a lovely, calming presence so we know he will be well-suited to a political household. We're thrilled they've found each other and wish Gus all the best in his new life."

Friday, 2 December 2016

How to have a pawsome Christmas

Most of us look forward to the festive period, but it can be a scary or stressful time for cats because of the number of changes in the house that Christmas brings. It can mean a houseful of visitors – potentially with their own pets – Christmas trees and decorations, candles, different smells and foods.

Cats are very sensitive to change; much of their feeling of security and ability to relax comes from being surrounded by the familiar sights, sounds and scents of their own territory. Some of the following tips can help to make Christmas a safe, happy and stress-free time for them.

Tonkinese cat byChristmas tree
Photo: Sean Naber via flickr / Creative Commons 

Avoiding food nasties

You might be tempted to share some of your leftover Christmas dinner with puss to save yourself from turkey sandwiches for the rest of the holidays, but restrict it to a small amount of boneless turkey. Remember that any treats you give your cat should be taken from their daily food allowance.

Some foods are toxic to cats and so should be avoided:

  • chocolate
  • allium species (onions, garlic, leeks, spring onions and chives)
  • grapes (including raisins, sultanas and currants)
  • alcohol
  • some mouldy foods (including dairy products, bread, rice and fallen fruits and nuts)

Don’t leave food unattended in the kitchen or on your plates and make sure your properly store away leftovers and firmly close waste bins.

To find out how to spot the signs of poisoning, click here. If you think your cat has been poisoned, take them to a vet immediately.

Christmas hazards

You may want to deck the halls with boughs of holly at the first sign of frost, but did you know that holly is poisonous to cats? Here are some other traditional festive plants that you may not have realised are toxic to cats:

  • Christmas cherry
  • holly
  • mistletoe
  • ivy
  • Christmas roses

For a full list of plants poisonous to cats, click here.

Avoid using tinsel and ‘angel hair’ on your tree as they can get stuck in cats’ throats, and keep the electrical cords of your fairy lights covered up. If you favour a real pine tree, vacuum around it frequently – as well as being a choking hazard, pine needles can hurt cats’ feet and cause infections.

Don’t let these tips ruin the festive spirit though – how about making some of your own cat-friendly Christmas decorations and treats? We’ve got plenty of fun crafty cat projects in our Pinterest board.

Reducing stress

Having friends and relatives to visit is part and parcel of the Christmas period and it’s likely to create a busy and noisy household. Remember that your cat may not wish to join in with the festivities and could find it quite a nerve-wracking time; the following advice will help to make Christmas less stressful:

  • avoid using party poppers or crackers
  • ensure that your cat has a quiet room to themselves with their food, water and litter tray easily accessible
  • provide somewhere where your cat can hide, up high if possible
  • play quiet, soothing music or leave a television on in the room with them
  • use a Feliway plug-in diffuser in the cat’s designated room to decrease anxiety

We’ve teamed up with Ceva who are kindly donating a bundle of festive goodies for one lucky blog reader – a Feliway Classic Diffuser, a Kong Active Treat Ball and a blanket worth around £40.
Ceva prizes
To enter, email with the subject line ‘Festive competition’ and tell us your name, phone number and full postal address. The competition closes at midday on Friday 9 December 2016. See terms and conditions here.