New Initiative Aims to Improve Feline Wellbeing

International Cat Care wants to improve people’s understanding of cats’ mental health

International Cat Care wants to improve people’s understanding of cats’ mental health
Photo: siekierski photo/Shutterstock.
By Zazie Todd, PhD

Cats’ wellbeing isn’t just about physical health; mental health is important too. A new initiative from International Cat Care aims to improve cats’ wellbeing. They have set up the iCatCare Feline Wellbeing Panel, an international group of 26 experts who can work together on feline behaviour and welfare issues.

Last year, a survey of experts published in Veterinary Record found that the biggest welfare concern for pet cats is behaviour issues because of a poor home environment. Cats have species-specific needs, such as what cats  need in their environment. When cats’ needs are not met, it is stressful for them. This in turn can lead to behavioural issues and also affect their physical health. Helping the public to understand the needs of cats will be one part of the panel’s work.

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Dr. Sarah Ellis, Chair of the new panel, says,
“When we talk about Feline Wellbeing, we are referring to the mental wellbeing of the cat. This, alongside the physical health of the cat contribute to its welfare status. Cats can suffer both physically and mentally. Understanding how to improve a cat’s mental wellbeing or prevent it from mental suffering in the first place involves deep understanding of the behavioural, emotional and cognitive capabilities and needs of the cat.  
“At iCatCare we very much value the mental wellbeing of the cat in equal measure to its physical health and believe the two are deeply interlinked. For example, many disease processes are exacerbated by stress and many casts displaying problem behaviours have underlying medical issues that are contributing to the problem behaviour. Likewise, the way we expect cats to live alongside us in our everyday lives can be stressful for them and we can inadvertently cause them problems because we do not understand their needs.”
The panel will have varied activities including sharing information with the public about the best ways to care for their cat, the development of guidelines on best practice, and new educational materials. As well as pet cats in homes, the panel's focus includes veterinary clinics, shelter and rescue centres, and free-roaming cats that live on the streets.

The expert panel includes people from a range of backgrounds including veterinary behaviour specialists, researchers, and animal welfare specialists. I am very honoured to be a member, and you can see the list of members of the Wellbeing Panel and the ISFM Academy of Feline Practitioners.

From time to time, the panel will have surveys for cat guardians or those who work with cats to complete, so as to hear a wide range of opinions.

You can learn more about the panel in this interview with Dr. Sarah Ellis and in the press release (which also introduces the ISFM Academy of Feline Practitioners). 

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the best-selling author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. She is the founder of the popular blog Companion Animal Psychology, where she writes about everything from training methods to the human-canine relationship. She also writes a column for Psychology Today and has received the prestigious Captain Haggerty Award for Best Training Article in 2017. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband and two cats.

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