The UK’s biggest cat charity has issued a warning about the risk of online sellers capitalising on the COVID-19 pandemic to sell poorly-bred kittens.
Cats Protection says that demand for new ‘lockdown pets’ may make it easier for unscrupulous vendors to sell kittens which may be sick or too young to be parted from their mothers.
With figures from the Government’s Petfished campaign showing a huge 125% increase in adverts posted across online marketplaces during lockdown for puppies, kittens, dogs and cats, the charity says buyers need to be more vigilant than ever[i].
Owner Emma Bradbury, from Lincolnshire, was left with a £300 veterinary bill after Leo, the kitten she purchased for £160 on 7 June 2020, turned out to be malnourished and underweight as he was too young to be away from his mother.
She said: “The seller sent me photos and videos and said he would be eight weeks old by the time I collected him. She told me to bring a cat carrier containing the cash and when I arrived, she took the cash and put the kitten in the cat carrier to ensure we abided by social distancing rules.
“When I arrived home, I immediately felt he was very thin and after weighing him I realised he was half the weight he should be for an eight-week-old kitten. I took him to a vet who told me he was actually five weeks old and wasn’t properly weaned so wasn’t able to eat any of the food I had been giving him. The vet also advised he had earmites. He was very poorly due to dehydration and had to be kept in overnight for fluids and put on a special diet.
“His treatment was expensive, but I’m fortunate that I could afford to pay. I dread to think what could have happened to him otherwise. He’s now 10 weeks old and doing well, but it was a very upsetting experience. I was furious that I had been lied to and when I searched the seller online, I noticed they had multiple adverts, a clear indicator that they just wanted to sell kittens online for profit at any cost. When I raised my concerns with the seller, there were so many red flags that I was not aware of in advance – for example, she advised it wasn’t her kitten and she had sold him for a friend.”
Cats Protection’s Head of Advocacy & Government Relations Jacqui Cuff said: “With so many people now working from home for the foreseeable future, it’s understandable that many would want to bring a new pet cat into their household. But buyers must be aware that this demand creates the ideal conditions for unscrupulous sellers who put profit before welfare.
“These profit-driven sellers may be selling kittens which are sick or too young to be separated from their mothers, which can lead to high vet bills. Sadly, some kittens bred in poor conditions may not survive, which can be incredibly distressing for their new owner.
“Unscrupulous sellers have always existed, but the COVID-19 restrictions can give them an extra layer of invisibility. Before the lockdown, buyers may have heard alarm bells if a seller offered to deliver a kitten to them, or said it was not possible to view the kitten with its mother. But the guidelines and restrictions on visiting other households means it is now very difficult to be sure of a kitten’s background.
“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we may have been seeing moggies selling for around £50, but nowadays a quick scan of online adverts will find moggies for sale for hundreds of pounds. It is clear to us that there are individuals out there who are intent on putting profit before welfare”.
Cat lover and former keyboardist of progressive rock band Yes, Rick Wakeman, backed Cats Protection’s call for buyers to be vigilant and urged them instead to consider adopting a rescue cat.
He said: “I’d urge anyone thinking of getting a kitten to get in touch with a reputable rehoming charity like Cats Protection. Adopting from Cats Protection gives you the peace of mind of knowing your new pet has had all the necessary veterinary checks, and helps give a cat in need a second chance in life. And by adopting a rescue cat, you’ll help to reduce the demand which encourages unscrupulous sellers from trading in kittens.”
To make adopting from a charity safe and easy, Cats Protection’s Hands-free Homing scheme ensures cats and kittens can be rehomed following social distancing measures.
Cats Protection’s warning follows the Government’s Petfished campaign to help the public research pet sellers thoroughly online before buying a new pet.
Cats Protection advises buyers to think carefully before purchasing a kitten from an online advert and refer closely to its Kitten Checklist. Buyers can view this, as well as a wealth of other tips and advice for purchasing a kitten, by visiting www.cats.org.uk/help-and-advice/pregnancy-and-kitten-care/buying-a-kitten-online