Page last updated at 17:00 GMT, Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Pet owners face code of practice

Freddie the cat
Cats are solitary creatures but need entertainment, the government says

Cat and dog owners are to be told to provide "entertainment" and "mental stimulation" for their pets under new government advice.

The code of practice also includes advice on diet and providing "somewhere suitable to go to the toilet".

It says owners should watch for signs of stress and advises on introducing cats to dogs without the fur flying.

Owners will not be fined for breaking the rules but failure to comply may be used in animal cruelty prosecutions.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it wanted to remind pet owners of their responsibilities under the 2006 Animal Welfare Act.

The 26 page document on cat welfare begins with a warning to owners: "It is your responsibility to read the complete Code of Practice to fully understand your cat's welfare needs and what the law requires you to do."

Hot car warning

The document, which will be published as a leaflet and on Defra's website after an eight week consultation period, says owners must provide their pets with a "suitable place to live" including "somewhere suitable to go to the toilet". It also advises providing a separate litter tray for each cat.

This means no one will be able to claim ignorance as an excuse for mistreating any animal
Hilary Benn
Environment secretary

And it adds: "Cats need opportunities to climb and jump, such as a simple 'platform' type bed or safe access to shelves and the tops of cupboards.

"Cats that are not very tame, such as some farm cats, may prefer to live outdoors in more basic shelter but you still need to look after them."

The guidelines warn owners they could face prosecution for cruelty for leaving animals in hot cars.

And they give a detailed description of what constitutes normal behaviour - such as scratching and clawing - and tells owners to "watch your cat closely for signs of stress or changes in behaviour".

"Dogs should be introduced to cats very carefully; the dog should be held safely on a lead at first so that it cannot chase the cat," it adds.

On diet, it advises fresh food every day but warns "an obese cat is an unhealthy cat" adding "it is a good idea in a 'greedy' cat to have the measured food divided up into a number of meals per day".

Play advice

And it tells owners to provide suitable toys and "entertainment" for their cats.

"You should ensure that your cat has enough mental stimulation from you and from its environment to avoid boredom and frustration.

"It is your responsibility to provide opportunities for your cat to satisfy all of its behavioural needs, such as play and companionship."

But, the guide adds, cats are solitary creatures and the most common cause of stress is "coming into close contact with other cats they do not like".

Dog owners, by contrast, are given detailed instructions on ensuring their pets do not become lonely or isolated as "dogs are a social species and need the company of people, dogs or other animals".

There are similar guidelines for horse owners under the proposals, which are subject to an eight week consultation period. The proposed leaflet also includes the relevant sections of animal welfare legislation.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said: "These three new codes of practice will outline the responsibilities under the Animal Welfare Act and give practical advice on how to fulfil them.

"This means no one will be able to claim ignorance as an excuse for mistreating any animal."

Thank you for your many e-mails. Here is a selection of your comments.

Tiddles and I have managed to grab some tickets for the Bond movie, I'd also thought we'd take in a pizza before the film. Next week she fancies Alton Towers....
Paul, Braintree

What will they come up with next? My family has had many animals and we have not felt the need to be told how to "entertain" them! My cat is sleeping right now, so do I leave him to sleep, assuming that is normal, or wake him up and entertain him, in case he is just bored? Better read the guidelines!
Julie, Dunstable

We'll be given advice on how to breathe next.
Alex, Edinburgh

Unfortunately, the people in need of this advice (and there are many) are probably too stupid to read.
Martin, London

Once again the nanny state strikes, full of useless information and pointing out the blatently obvious, we need to stop wasting money on these useless things and put our taxes to more practical use.
Brian, Manchester

Entertain a cat? When you remove the time our cat spends eating, sleeping and having a quick patrol around the garden there are no hours left in a day! That's on top of the fact that any form of disturbance whilst she's doing any of those things would be met with a look of total disgust. Anyone who really knows how to care for and look after their pet doesn't need this advice. Anyone who does need to read it shouldn't be left alone with the poor animal. It's another waste of money that could have been put into proper animal welfare.
Des, Reading, England

Yes the code of practice is a good idea and as a dog owner I feel that a dog licence should be re introduced and it should be manditory to have i.d. on the dog i.e. a tag on the collar and/or chipped, also dogs must be kept on leads in public places and 2000 fine for dog fouling in public places.
Andy, Devon

Yes it is good to have these quidelines. People need to remember ALL animals are dumb therefore unable to communicate their needs: unlike their human counterparts
Marie , leicester

An 8 week consultation! They could have gone to the local library and picked up, cats for dummies or Noddy's guide to owning a pet.
Jay, london

Good idea. For far too long, pets have been purchased and then neglected and people have been able to make excuses. They say ignorance is bliss - well not any more sunshine!
Amanda, Cambridge

Is this a joke? Government guidelines telling you that it's a good idea to let your pet go to the toilet? There are some things (and looking after a pet is one of them) that should be down to common sense. If you don't have enough common sense to know that your pet needs to sometimes go to the toilet then you should be in care. Or is this intended for labour voters who don't know such things?
Steve, London

I've provided a small bridge and 'no fishing' sign for my goldfish. Is this sufficient under the 2006 Animal Welfare Act?Phil, Berkhamsted, UK

It is a superb idea. I live next door to someone whose idea of looking after their cat is feeding it. It is only allowed in doors when they are at home, and as they are out all week, and stay away at weekends, the poor cat is like a stray, fights with my cat, eats her food, and costs me endless vets bills due to the stress it causes my cat. The sad thing is that the neighbours cat is a beautiful cat and deserves a loving home.
Alison, Suffolk

This is the ultimate in interfering government! What next - feline rights? They should have better things to do with their time and our money than this.
Jennifer, Huntingdon

Does the guidance say how to stop my neighbours cat from doing numbers twos in my garden?
Mrs Trellis, Bristol

Next Gordon and his nanny state loving chums will be telling us how to walk our dogs...oh whoops he already is. Code of conduct on how to drink a cup of tea next Gordon? Has this Government got nothing better to do? Two wars, an economy on the verge of collapse failing health and education yet we all know how to feed our dogs when most people are struggling to feed themselves.
Bruce, Grantham

My cat is 18 years old. I would like to know what form of 'entertainment' is recommended for this age group. Bingo, perhaps?
Sarah, Arundel, west sussex

The world has gone mad or at least this government has. I wonder whether similar guidelines exist on how to treat children and elderly relatives? No doubt these guidelines will now be used by the scaremongers from the RSPCA to harass old ladies for not running around with their dogs every day or not buying their cats expensive toys. I also wonder how much public money has been spent on these guidelines. Whoever came up with this 'brilliant' idea should surely be sent to look for a real job together with the rest of the no doubt large department this person works in. What a shambles! I was entertaining the thought of having a cat as our boys are very fond of the idea. No chance of that now! Too dangerous. Better have another baby.
Mary, Cambridge

For a nation of supposed animal lovers there is a shocking level of animal cruelty in the UK. Anything that may improve this situation is a good idea although it's a shame people have to be encouraged or reminded to provide basic care for their animals.
Lorna, Ayrshire, Scotland

When will the big brother, nanny state ever stop interferring? It won't change peoples hearts or minds, good pet owners don't need the advice and bad owners won't care either way, it's just more namby pampy nonsense to keep the activists happy, who is going to keep checks and who is going to foot the bill?
Julian, Salford, UK

I think this is a great idea. Some people need to have these simple things outlined for them in plain English. A lot of people just get pets for the sake of it and often without thinking about the animals needs. It is also about time people were unable to get away with animal neglect. Bringing out these guidelines means they can no longer say they didn't know what they were doing or what they were supposed to be doing. I know it seems a bit of a waste of time but there are so many people out there who really shouldn't be getting away with what they are doing.
Lucy, Southampton, UK

Just what we need at the beginning of a recession! An 8 week consultation on "How to pamper your pooch" Glad to see any excess from the government's rescue of the fat cat bankers is being used to teach us how to look after them.
Mike, York

A quite important question is this; if you need to have home checks, income checks etc for getting an animal, how can anyone choose to have a baby without first being checked out. Surely these issues are much bigger and more important than whether joe spends a couple of hours a night playing with his cat. What about his child?
Martin, Milton Keynes, UK

I worked in a pet shop and it is sometimes shocking how little people know about their pets health and lifestyle needs before they buy them. I think that the government is right to introduce a code of conduct or general information but 26 pages on cat care does seem a little excessive.
Natalie, Brighton, UK

It always pleases me when tougher guidelines and regulations against animal cruelty appear. However, why is there never anything about the most neglected pet in the UK (probably the world) - the rabbit? Most domestic rabbits live in tiny cages, with no exercise, poor hygiene and the wrong sort of food. It is a terrible tragedy that these beautiful animals are so often neglected by owners and the authorities.
Emma, Sussex, England

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