Injuries caused by other cats are the most common, non-routine cause for felines visiting the vets, a survey for Vet CatWatch Day has found.
The findings show injuries inflicted by other cats were 2.5 times more frequent than injuries caused by road traffic accidents, which is a much more common cause for concern among cat owners compared to feline conflict.
Vet CatWatch Day collated data from veterinary practices nationwide, asking them to record the reasons why cats visited them on 8 May 2013. This information has never been collected before on a national scale, says Jon Bowen, lead researcher and animal behaviour consultant at the Royal Veterinary College.
The event was conducted as part of the Neighbourhood Cat Campaign, which was developed by SureFlap in conjunction with Your Cat magazine, when it was realised very little was known about the impact of feline conflict on cat health.
The Neighbourhood Cat Campaign – which surveyed 900 cat owners – found 23% of cat owners had significant problems with neighbourhood cats, causing not only injuries but also significant stress for the resident animal.
Stress is a common trigger for long-term behavioural problems and health issues and the campaign found cats which have suffered minor injuries from fights had a significantly higher incidence of hair loss, lameness, eye infections, coughs and sneezes and were four times more likely to spray in the house.
Jon comments: “This study is valuable because for the first time we have nationwide data about the reasons cats visit their clinics. The results have given clear evidence for a link between inter-cat conflict and the longer-term health of pet cats, which is vital information for both vets and cat owners.
“Now we know there is a link, we are better placed to suggest remedies. I often recommend people identify the owner of the cat their cat is having issues with. Sometimes it is possible to stagger the times each cat is allowed outdoor access, preventing the two cats coming into contact with each other.”
SureFlap produces microchip-operated pet doors which will recognise a resident pet's microchip, unlocking only for them and keeping intruder animals out.
Judith Bank of SureFlap says: “Our customers often report they purchased a microchip-operated cat flap to help their pet feel secure in their own home.
"The SureFlap pet door has a new curfew feature, which allows an owner to program the flap to lock and unlock at certain times. This would work perfectly to aid Jon’s suggestion of shared outdoor access between neighbourhood cats that have come into conflict in the past.”
Jon adds: “The link between feline fights causing health and behaviour issues is underestimated by owners, and as a result many opportunities to improve cats’ wellbeing are being missed.
“For many cats, simply ensuring they have somewhere safe and secure to retreat to, greatly improves their quality of life. By installing a secure cat flap, the cat will not have to deal with attacks in their own home, and in time they will come to understand that other cats are not able to enter their core territory, leading to a happier, more relaxed pet.”
The most common procedure on Vet CatWatch Day was vaccinating cats (73%). Other common reasons for cats visiting practices included gastrointestinal problems, skin diseases and dental problems.
Judith concludes: “The results from Vet CatWatch Day have been interesting so far but we need more data from practices around the country. Therefore we are going to leave the survey open and are encouraging other clinics to take part on a day of their choice."