Cat Cruelty or Cat Welfare?

Apparently there can be a very fine line between cat cruelty and cat welfare.  I find it very strange. You would have thought that the two would occupy opposite ends of the spectrum in respect of cat caretaking. But no. Here is an example of how the two diametrically opposed aspects of cat caretaking can almost merge.

A person goes to a cat shelter and picks out a cat with FIV or FeLV. These are long term illnesses and cats can lead decent lives with them. It is obviously a sign of good cat welfare to adopt an ill cat that would otherwise probably be put down.

The cat lives a decent life and then loses his appetite and stops eating. The person takes his cat to the veterinarian for advice about appetite. The vet says that the cat needs to be euthanised. The person disagrees as he thinks his cat is content and not in pain. The person takes the cat home and the vet calls the police claiming animal cruelty is taking place. The police seize the cat and the man is charged under animal cruelty laws.

  • The cat’s caretaker had no chance to obtain a second opinion.
  • The vet says that the caretaker had refused her advice to treat the cat.
  • The vets says that the caretaker refused to euthanise the cat.

It seems that the cat’s caretaker is being charged for animal cruelty for failing to take the veterinarian’s advice. Vets are obliged to report cases of animal cruelty.

However, when a vet reports animal cruelty, it has to be fairly cut and dried I would suggest because you are on dangerous ground making an accusation of animal cruelty. What if, as a vet, your diagnosis is not quite right? If you report someone on the basis of an inaccurate diagnosis you would open yourself up to a claim for compensation for defamation and some sort disciplinary action against you by a governing body.

Is is cruel not to euthanise a cat? That is a big philosophical question. Choosing the time to euthanize a cat is difficult. It is not a precise science. The window during which euthanasia would be considered acceptable is probably a period of a few weeks to several months, depending on the circumstances.

Stray and feral cats die in their millions every year from fatal illnesses and no one steps in to euthanize these cats.  Many of then are ‘owned cats’. Many owned cats are deliberately shot by strangers in the USA. This action is immune from prosecution in the USA. Shooting a cat is much more cruel that not euthanizing a cat that is dying of natural causes when advised to by a vet. Or is it?

In the UK, when a person has locked in syndrome due to a massive stroke and has no life whatsoever but just drawn out misery and wants to die, he is refused the release he craves (the Tony Nicklinson case) . People aren’t cats but are we not being overly cautious in respect of human euthanasia and slightly overzealous in respect of cat euthanasia? And doesn’t this reflect our arrogance about ourselves and our general lack of respect for the cat?

These are difficult areas. It is for that reason that the vet should have been a little more circumspect. Perhaps she had a row with the cat’s owner, which may have put her in a bad mood.  Elisa reported on this case a while ago.

7 thoughts on “Cat Cruelty or Cat Welfare?”

  1. I got the impression that Pastor’s vet knew what was going on when his elderly cat was allowed to pass peacefully at home. So not every vet believes like this one that any animal even remotely near death should be put down or it’s cruelty. Like Ruth says, we don’t want to kill an animal too soon either.

  2. The vet in this case claimed that if an animal is allowed to go on to the point of death that that is cruelty, because he should have been euthanized sooner. This means the pastor at my previous church, the most gentle man you’d ever meet and a great cat caretaker, was guilty of cruelty to his previous cat, which died quietly at home surrounded by her family. I remember when it happened because I invited Pastor to our house for supper and he declined, stating that his cat was very ill and he wanted to be there for her when she passed. I guess he was supposed to subject her to the stress of a vet visit and have had her put down there instead of letting nature take its course in comfortable surroundings.

    I think every case is different and I do think they should have been allowed a second opinion, but some involved with this case (in comments I’ve read elsewhere) have stated that the cat was really looking bad, it was more than just refusing food– it really did seem in an obvious bad way. So without having seen the cat it’s hard to judge.

    I have to say also that that “locked in” syndrome caused by a stroke in the pons scares the absolute living sh*t out of me. We learned about it when I was training to be a physical therapist assistant. People suffering a stroke to their pons can end up able to move only their eyes/eyelids. That’s it. However,their cognition is completely intact. They just can’t move anything except their eyes. I’m not usually for mercy killing or assisted suicide, but in that case I’d make an exception. Maybe give it a little while to see if there’s any improvement, and doctors know the window during which you are most likely to see improvement following a stroke. If they don’t regain any movement during that brief window, safe to say it’s hopeless, and I think they have to be given the option to be set free from that kind of misery. It shouldn’t be mandatory, but it should be an option.

    I see a lot of people with mobility, balance and cognitive issues following strokes. I would not be in favor of euthanizing any of them, because people can overcome all kinds of limitations. Usually it’s weakness on one side of the body or once in awhile ataxia from an injury to the cerebellum. But you have something to work with there– you can get stronger on the other side to compensate, you can work on balance strategies or use a walker or cane– but how in the world does a person cope with being “locked in?” That’s just terrifying. Back before hooking up a feeding tube was the easiest thing in the world, those people would just have died. Now we can keep them alive. That doesn’t mean we should. To me almost any other impairment can be overcome. I feel like if I were suddenly in the position of the patients I work with I could cope with it, though maybe not as well as some of them do, but I could work with it. But nothing terrifies me more in this world than that locked in syndrome. I have actually had nightmares about it. It was the only affliction of our poor mortal bodies that I studied that actually deeply upset me and continues to haunt me.

    • Nice comment Ruth. I think as Marc says it is down to each case as each one is different. I find it interesting though that a person can be charged with animal cruelty for failing to take a vet’s advice, which is what it comes down to. If he had not gone to the vet and his cat had died naturally no one would have known and even if they did know they would not have considered it animal cruelty.

  3. No one knows a cat like his own caretaker does and a good caretaker close to their cat knows when the time is right to euthanise their incurably ill cat.
    A vet seeing that cat for a few minutes at a time shouldn’t be the one to say the cat should definately be euthanised, yes the caretaker should take the vet’s opinion into consideration, but have the final say themselves without fear of prosecution if they don’t feel on the cat’s behalf, that the time is yet right to say goodbye.
    Yes shooting cats is far more cruel than allowing a cat not in distress or too much pain to choose their own time to die. In the wild, cats go off on their own and ‘switch off’ from life and many times with a pet cat you can see the time coming when they start to want to wander off, they know when the time is right and the caretaker and vet should respect that.
    Keeping an animal alive at all costs is wrong but so is taking their lives too soon.
    My heart went out to Tony Nicklinson and his family, that WAS cruelty, forcing him to stay alive, so he had to starve himself to death as he had no quality of life at all.
    So yes I agree we are over zealous about keeping people alive but sometimes too quick to euthanise an animal and I do wonder if people do it on their own behalf rather than the pets and sometimes vets do it to old or ill animals rather than try to improve their quality of life to give them a bit longer.
    But each case is different, there is no easy answer.

  4. This is a really interesting thing to think about. I don’t think we will ever know the answer simply because each situation is unique. Humans are arrogant, about that there is no question, so whatever we feel and think should always be taken with a grain of salt and given alot of consideration. We can’t escape ourselves. And we don’t understand cats that well. So I myself can’t proport to answer any of these questions. What I can say is that nothing is abvious and in every unique situation there will alwys be things we didn’t think of. If we can approach these ideas with enough care and cautiousness then I believe we can find an answer, not ‘the’ answer, to every situation. The problem we have as humans is that we like to define generally and that does not bode well for the variety of different situations we must face. ‘The’ answer can therefore never exist – we can only hope to find ‘an’ answer. Furthermore we can only hope those answers are kind towards the cats rather than ourselves.

    • I think you have ‘the’ answer – there is no definitive answer. When there is no clear answer we should tread carefully and I am uneasy as you can tell about this vet’s decision. It was too harsh to call the police. There must have been a better way. A more gentle and appropriate way.

      • I totally agree. Calling the cops was probably more to satisfy the vet than the cat. They probably did argue and maybe the client suggested getting a second opinion and then maybe the vet’s ego was a little put out. Maybe not, but calling the police and labelling it so dramatically might well have been reactive for the wront reasons. Abuse would have been to not take the cat to the vet in the first place if anything. A second opinion when it concerns life and death is a must if there is even a tiny ounce of doubt.


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