The UK’s biggest cat charity has urged the public to beware of the risks in buying a ‘lockdown kitten’ online.
Cats Protection says the COVID-19 pandemic has created the ideal conditions for unscrupulous vendors to sell kittens which may be sick, poorly socialised or too young to be safely parted from their mothers.
With the average cost of buying a cat rocketing by nearly £100 this year, the charity says buyers could be duped into buying poorly kittens from sellers posing as caring and responsible breeders.
According to figures from tech4pets1, prepared for Cats Protection, the average price of cats and kittens on selected pet selling websites has increased throughout the COVID-19 pandemic – with the average price for July 2020 (£329.41) up 40% from the July 2019 average price (£235.23).
One kitten sold online this year was Lola, who was advertised for sale in October for £200 and described as a 10-week-old kitten in an online advert.
After purchasing her, Lola’s new owner’s circumstances soon changed and she was handed into Cats Protection’s Evesham Adoption Centre, in Worcestershire, where it was discovered she had in fact been just five weeks old when she was sold – nearly a month before she could have safely been parted from her mother.
Lola is now nine weeks old and, after being cared for by staff at Cats Protection, she has just been rehomed.
Cats Protection’s Head of Advocacy & Government Relations Jacqui Cuff said: “Lola is one of the lucky ones – although she was sold too young, she went on to be cared for by our dedicated staff who made sure she was happy, healthy and got all the care she needs. But the best care for her over her first few weeks would have been to remain with her mother.
“Sadly, we fear there are many underage kittens like Lola being sold online by vendors who are impatient to make a quick profit. These kittens can go on to have serious, life-threatening illnesses or be so poorly socialised that they’re not suitable as pets. They may then end up being handed into animal charities, or worse – abandoned to fend for themselves.
“With all of us spending more time at home, it is understandable that many people would want to welcome a new pet into the household. However, we’re asking buyers to think very carefully when using online adverts to find a new kitten.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created the ideal conditions for unscrupulous pet sellers to thrive, as they appear to have a credible reason for not allowing buyers to view the kitten with their mother first.
“Before the pandemic, 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.
“This campaign in one of a number of issues we’re working on to improve feline welfare across the UK. We’re grateful for support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, which helps make this work possible and ensures a better future for one of the nation’s favourite pets.”
Cats Protection’s warning follows the Government’s Petfished campaign to help the public research pet sellers thoroughly online before buying a new pet.
The charity says members of the public looking to get a cat or kitten should consider adopting from an animal welfare charity.
Since the beginning of lockdown restrictions in March, Cats Protection has been using its Hands-Free Homing initiative to rehome cats and kittens using social distancing measures. Over the past six months, the scheme has rehomed 10,000 cats and kittens.
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, and 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