Pet-care practices research results

Results from the pet-care practices research into the welfare needs of cats:

Your cat's environment

What cats need:

  • If you have more than one cat, they must have their own food and water bowls, cat beds and litter trays. Ideally you should also have one additional set of items (one more than the number of cats in the house). Having to share these things can cause aggression amongst cats, chronic stress and lead to significant health problems.
  • Sleeping, resting and viewing areas. Cats like to spend a lot of time sleeping and resting in quiet areas where they feel safe and secure. Cat beds can be purchased, or blankets, towels and pillows can be provided. High sided cat beds and boxes are useful to give cats a sense of 'privacy'. Cats use elevated areas as vantage points from which to observe their surroundings. These are essential, and can be provided by access to platforms, shelves, climbing posts or window ledges. If your cat is not in an outdoor enclosure, make sure your cat can access window ledges for sunshine, or place a chair near a window.
  • Cats should be confined to the owner's property — in the house, an enclosure and/or in a cat-proof backyard. Cats allowed to roam can get hit by cars or injured in fights. Cats kept to their owner's property live three times longer than cats allowed to roam. Information on building or buying cat enclosures or cat-proof fencing.
  • Litter trays should be big enough for easy access and located in a safe and private area (if a cat is startled while using the tray, he/she may not use that tray in future). Cats are very clean animals that do not like using dirty litter trays, so trays will need to be scooped daily, and cleaned with water and non-scented soap or mild detergent once a week.

The reality:

  • 58% of owners don't provide a separate litter tray for each cat.
  • 17% don't provide a separate sleeping area for each cat.
  • 19% don't provide a separate food bowl for each cat.
  • 6% of owners report their cat does not have access to elevated resting places.
  • Only 20% of cats sleep indoors on a cat bed at night.
  • 49% of owners allow their cat to roam free when outdoors.
  • 43% of owners don't clean their cat's litter tray often enough.

Diet

What cats need:

  • Feed your cat an appropriate balanced diet to maintain keep them in good condition. Too little or too much food, or the wrong type of food can cause health problems for your cat. Don't feed dog food or a purely vegetarian diet to cats as this will not supply all the necessary nutrition for them.
  • Check your cat's body condition (shape and weight) to decide how much to feed.
  • Only give treats occasionally. When a treat is given, reduce the amount of food in your cat's main meal.

The reality:

  • 11% of owners feed their cats with kitchen scraps.
  • 2% of owners feed their cat with dog food.
  • Research suggests that up to 40% of cats are overweight or obese. This could mean that cat owners are unaware of what an ideal cat shape looks like.
  • 16% of owners give their cats treats every day.

Behaviour

What cats need:

  • It is important to socialise kittens. This means gradually experiencing everyday sights and sounds, and meeting people and animals. Socialisation, especially in the first 10 weeks of life, will help your cat grow into a calm and affectionate pet. Your local vet may run 'kitten kindy' socialisation classes.
  • Cats need opportunity to play and exercise every day. This is particularly important for indoor cats – play will prevent them from getting bored and gaining weight. Cats enjoy toys that move or make noise, and remind them of prey such as mice, birds, and insects. They need a variety of toys they can roll, pounce on, capture and bite, and toys should be rotated regularly to prevent boredom. Some examples of simple and cheap toys (that are safe for cats to play with) are crumpled paper balls, paper bags to explore, cardboard boxes, and toilet paper tubes.
  • You can also try 'food foraging' — hiding your cat's dry food around the house in various locations, both high and on ground level.
  • You may need to seek professional advice if your cat develops behavioural problems.
  • It is important to always supervise young children when around cats. Children can be unintentionally rough and this can result in injuries to both the child and the cat.
  • Scratching is a natural behaviour for cats, which sharpens claws, stretches muscles and leaves scent marks. Your cat will need a scratching post, which can be horizontal or vertical, and can be made from sisal (a coarse natural fibre), carpet, cardboard or wood. You can encourage your cat to use the scratching post (rather than other things, like the furniture) by putting catnip on it.

The reality:

  • 17% of cats are not very well socialised, or not socialised at all.
  • 97% of cats did not attend 'kitten kindy' socialisation classes.
  • 11% of owners report exercising their cat less than once per month.
  • 11% of cats don't have access to toys or other objects they can manipulate.
  • 46% of cats have a fear of loud noises.
  • 18% of cats are aggressive.
  • 18% of cats have separation anxiety.
  • 35% show destructive behaviours.
  • 15% inappropriately urinate or defecate in the house.
  • 23% of cats display anxious behaviours.
  • 9% of owners don't supervise their cat when it is interacting with children.
  • 50% of cats don't have access to a scratching post.

Companionship

What cats need:

  • Cats usually prefer their own company. They generally tolerate living with a sibling, but often don't adjust to the introduction of a new cat to the household.
  • Cats require plenty of social contact with owners. If cats are in an enclosure, this can be achieved by access to the house through a cat door (and tunnel if applicable). Set aside time each day to interact with your cat — for instance, patting, playing with, or grooming him/her.
  • Cats must be cared for when owners go on holiday. This can involve taking a cat to a council registered cattery, or arranging for a friend or neighbour to provide care in the cat's home.

The reality:

  • 31% of cats live with other cats, while 32% with dogs.
  • 6% of owners interact with their cat less than once a day.
  • 23% of owners simply leave food and water out for their cat when they go away.

Health

What cats need:

  • Take care to keep poisons and toxic plants away from cats. Never feed cats food such as chocolate. These are toxic. Read more about toxic food and other hazards for cats.
  • If transporting your cat they need to be transported in a well-ventilated cage or cat carrier. The cage or container needs to be strapped into the car to prevent it sliding around. Don't transport your cat in an enclosed boot (such as a sedan boot). Don't leave a cat in a car. Even on a mild day the inside of a car can heat up quickly causing heat stress and even the death of your cat.
  • Along with prompt veterinary care for illness or injury, cats also need preventative health care in order to live a long and happy life. This includes regular vaccinations, worming, flea treatments and dental care (through dental chews or brushing).
  • To enable the return of a lost cat to its owner, all cats three months of age must be registered with the local council. All cats being registered for the first time must also be permanently identified with a microchip.
  • Cats not intended for breeding should be desexed. This can safely be done from three months of age. Desexing can prevent certain health problems, such as some types of cancer. It can also prevent the development of problem behaviours, such as spraying.
  • The vast majority of owned cats are desexed. However the problem lies with 'semi-owned' cats — ones that people feed but do not fully own. Many of these cats are not desexed, and they contribute to Victoria's cat overpopulation problem.
  • Cats are excellent self-groomers, but they still need help getting hard-to-reach spots, especially when elderly. If your cat has short hair, brush them once per week using a metal comb and working from head to tail in the direction the coat grows. If your cat has long hair, you'll need to brush every few days. Start at the belly and legs to gently get rid of knots and comb the fur in an upward motion to remove dead hair and debris.

The reality:

  • 4% of owners report they do not take care to keep hazardous items out of reach of their cat.
  • 2% of owners feed chocolate to their cats.
  • 9% of owners who travel with their cats report their cat is either unrestrained or only restrained by being held.
  • 26% of owners have not taken their cat to the vet for a checkup in the past year.
  • 29% of owners have not vaccinated their cat against common diseases.
  • 13% of owners have not checked or treated their cat for fleas or other external parasites.
  • 16% of owners have not checked or treated their cat for intestinal worms.
  • 36% of owners do nothing to maintain their cat's dental health.
  • 10% of owners have lost a cat in the past 5 years that was unable to be found.
  • 21% of owners never groom their cat.

Transporting your cat

Make sure you transport your cat safely. If transporting your cat ensure they are transported in a well ventilated cage or cat carrier. The cage or container needs to be strapped into the car to prevent it sliding around. Don't transport your cat in an enclosed vehicle boot.

Don't leave a cat in a car, even on a mild day. Regulations prohibit animals being left unattended in motor vehicles when the temperature is at, or exceeds, 28 degrees Celsius. The interior of a car can heat up quickly, cause heat stress and even the death of your cat. For more information, visit Prevention of Cruelty to Animals legislation.

More information

Cat welfare recommendations were sourced from the Pet-Care Practices in Victoria research that surveyed 1,629 dog, cat, bird and rabbit owners in Victoria to measure how well they understood their pets’ welfare needs.

Page last updated: 04 Jan 2021