The New Zealand National Cat Management Strategy Draft

This post has been a long time coming. I had been holding out for a resolution to the New Zealand National Cat Management Strategy proposal that was released in draft form in September 2016. However, a recent article in The Dominion Post hints that Wellington is going ahead without The Strategy, as the capital city looks towards new rules for the management of cats (and other animals). This follows on from the bylaw Wellington introduced last year, implemented early 2018, which mandates that all domestic cats over 12 weeks of age be microchipped and that all such microchips be registered with the NZ Companion Animal Register (NZCAR).

Maybe I should back up a little here. What is going on in New Zealand with our domestic cats? It has long been recognised that cats on islands, such as New Zealand, cause problems by predating upon wildlife [1] – and there is particular concern for native and endangered species. New Zealand has many beautiful native bird species, most of which have evolved without the need to protect themselves from predators such as cats (who were introduced later by humans). This puts them at risk of declining numbers and potential extinction. Several ‘predator-free’ (predators also include: stoats, rats, and possums) islands and land-based reserves have been established in New Zealand, in order to provide a protected environment for native species. However, there is still a need to protect the wildlife not within the confines of these sheltered areas, and to provide future-proof environments. There is a plan to make New Zealand predator-free (of possums, rats, and stoats) by the year 2050. However, this plan does not extend to cats.

Some large cities (e.g. Wellington – our capital city) are near several of these protected areas, and native bird habitats often extend outside their sheltered zone. This, in addition to wildlife already resident in the capital, has been causing problems with owned domestic (and often feral) cats. Cats are skilled hunters [1], and unfortunately their hunting zones may overlap with native bird habitats. A call to ban domestic cats in New Zealand did not go down particularly well with cat owners. New Zealand is unique, in that unlike many other countries that favour dogs, cats are our most popular companion animal pet [2]. And cat owners can be very protective of their right to own a feline friend. This provides for an interesting clash between wildlife advocates and domestic cat owners.

There is an obvious need for compromise and so representatives from various interest groups sat down together and drafted the NZ National Cat Management Strategy. The Strategy’s working group is made up of members from: The New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA); NZVA Companion Animal Veterinarians (CAV); New Zealand Companion Animal Council (NZCAC); Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RNZSPCA); Morgan Foundation; and Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ). The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the Department of Conservation (DOC) are technical advisory members. “The key principles of the strategy are the promotion of responsible cat ownership, humane cat management, and environmental protection.” (The Strategy pg7). The Strategy makes a point of recognising the positive benefits and value in cat ownership, but also acknowledges the impact cats have on native species. This gives credit to both sides of the argument for (e.g. ‘Feline Rights New Zealand’) and against (e.g. Gareth Morgan and The Morgan Foundation) cats in New Zealand.

A summary of The Strategy is available here. Briefly, the 17 key recommendations agreed by the group relate to: (1) the recognition that cats are sentient animals; (2) a focus on non-lethal control methods; (3) the identification of different cat populations (owned, feral, stray, etc.); (4) management programmes targeted specifically at stray cats; (5) targeted trap-neuter-return programmes for stray cats; (6) communication and collaboration with all stakeholders; (7) addressing inconsistencies in legislation; (8) implementing a national cat management task force; (9) A National Cat Management Act that allows for the creation and implementation of cat bylaws; (10) incremental changes to legislation; (11) cat management advisory groups for local governments; (12) evaluation of cat management strategies; (13) the reporting of these evaluations; (14) a centralised national database of cat management statistics; (15) an integrated approach to cat management; (16) those implementing cat management strategies understand the animal welfare implications and best practice for the techniques; and (17) identifying areas of high conservation value and implementing strict controls for these areas. According to the RNZSPCA, The Strategy was due to be presented to Government before the end of last year. It will be interesting to see what eventuates.

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A native New Zealand Tui enjoys the spring flowers at Massey University, Palmerston North

What will the future of cat ownership in New Zealand look like? And what are some things we could be doing now to help? Keeping cats indoors at night is likely to reduce some of their predation habits. The use of anti-predation cat collar covers may also be beneficial [3]. Having your cat(s) microchipped now could also be a good idea. Microchipping is the recommended best practice method for identification of cats in the New Zealand Companion Cats Code of Welfare, and is preferred to collar use. Desexing cats is another key owner responsibility. Chatting to (as opposed to criticising) cat owners about the harmful effects of cats on our wildlife, and giving them a few things they can try now to combat these effects, will go a long way to help New Zealand resolve this issue. Words written by a cat lover.

“There will always be cats in New Zealand and the only viable route to effective cat management is to implement facilitating legislation and simultaneously work with the stakeholders involved with all cat populations to find agreed solutions that are acceptable and have a realistic chance of reducing cat numbers and mitigating cats’ negative impact on wildlife.” (The New Zealand National Cat Management Strategy Draft 2016)

Here is a short YouTube video about the New Zealand National Cat Management Strategy.

References

  1. Medina, F.M., et al., A global review of the impacts of invasive cats on island endangered vertebrates. Global Change Biology, 2011. 17(11): p. 3503-3510.
  2. New Zealand Companion Animal Council Inc., Companion Animals in New Zealand. 2016: Auckland, New Zealand.
  3. Willson, S.K., I.A. Okunlola, and J.A. Novak, Birds be safe: Can a novel cat collar reduce avian mortality by domestic cats (Felis catus)? Global ecology and conservation, 2015. 3: p. 359-366.

 

Edit (30th April 2017):

As a result of an email taking issue with my recommendation of anti-predation cat collars and their safety to cats, I would like to clarify the type of collar I suggest.

I recommend those that fit over the cat’s current (quick release or breakaway) collar and are open at one end – so that both collars release if the cat gets caught. An example of them can be found here: https://www.birdsbesafe.com/ and can be made yourself with instructions found here:
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While I was away…

As I have been on holiday (and a little bit MIA while preparing for my PhD Confirmation), I thought I would write a post on what I have missed. I am still playing catch-up, so this is not exhaustive, but these are a few matters of interest that have come up while I have been away:

AVA Conference 2017

The program for the 2017 AVA Conference in Melbourne came out just before I left. It has a great line-up of animal welfare talks. I am disappointed that I will not be able to make it this year, but I will be at the ANZCVS Science Week instead – I hope to see you there.

UFAW International Symposium 2017

The line-up for the UFAW 2017 Symposium looks fantastic too! The theme is ‘Measuring animal welfare and applying scientific advances – Why is it still so difficult?’. This is something very close to my heart and another one I wish I could attend. But unfortunately, the PhD calls. I will begin interviews for my second study this year.

OIE vacancy for specialist in Animal Welfare

Earlier in the month the OIE listed this amazing job opportunity in Animal Welfare based in Brussels, Belgium. The closing date is the 3rd of March 2017. If only I was ready for this great opportunity…

Cats to keep their claws in NJ?

New Jersey could be one of the first states in the USA to restrict declawing of cats to only those deemed necessary by a veterinarian. This could pave the way to restrictions throughout the entire USA. In New Zealand, “The declawing of cats to alleviate social or behavioural problems should be contemplated only when retraining has proved ineffective and euthanasia is the only alternative” (Code of Welfare 2007 – Companion cats). This stance will not be changing with the new Animal Welfare regulations in New Zealand. Cats have claws and removing them simply because they lead to traits that we regard as ‘undesirable’ bears a strong resemblance to ear cropping and tail docking in dogs.

On the subject of cats

Because ‘cat welfare matters’, this next story is about ‘designer cats’. Dogs have had plenty of attention recently as we have heard about the issues associated with brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds. But it’s not just dogs whose welfare is negatively affected by breed standards. Our feline friends have problems too! International Cat Care has written a great article that tells us the truth about ‘designer cats’. A cat with short legs? How adorable! Not so for the cat…check out their radiographs. And brachycephalic cats have problems too. We need to breed for function, not form. “…many (if not all) of these cats are likely to suffer pain and/or compromised welfare.”

Women in Science

A little off topic, but our welfare is important too! This last one begins with a conversation I overheard while on holiday. I was waiting to order my brunch at a café and overheard three women behind me. Their topic for discussion? Which of their friends had ‘got the fattest’ after high school. Wouldn’t it have been nice if I had overheard them discussing which friend had done great things with her life? Who had a fantastic career? Who was doing ‘well’? Now don’t get me wrong, I am not one to talk. I have joined in similar discussions in my time. But what good is this doing us? This lead me to think about how women undersell ourselves and each other and how this could affect our success. The 11th of February was International Day of Women and Girls in Science and I pretty well missed it. We need to support women in science to achieve great things. I love hearing about what women are accomplishing every day. My main PhD supervisor is a fantastic scientist. She has, and will continue to, achieved great things. Let’s celebrate a little better next year so that we can support women to achieve even more – for science and animal welfare! Mark it in your calendar.

 

 

 

Cat Friendly Veterinarians

Following on from my previous post on environmental enrichment for New Zealand cats, this post will focus on some things veterinarians can do to improve the lives of their feline patients.

There are many ways we can increase the number of positive experiences pet cats have. Not least is helping to ensure their experiences when visiting a veterinary clinic are less negative, and more positive [1, 2]. This is where individual veterinarians and clinics come in. If a cat is not ‘happy’ about going to the clinic, then an owner is less likely to bring their pet to the veterinarian as often as they may otherwise [3, 4]. Feline environmental enrichment is not just good for the cat; it is good business.

How can we treat our cat patients with kindness? (and differently to dogs)

Cat are not just mini dogs. They respond very differently towards veterinary consultations. From the cat that refuses to leave its carrier, to the one who refuses to go back in; the cat who stiffens up and tries to draw blood, to the one who just wants to rub its face all over you. We know there are many differences even between cats. However, there are a few things we can do to make life a little easier for those that are struggling with going to see a veterinarian.

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Cat carrier training

For starters, training cats to not completely hate the idea of going in their cat carrier can make life much easier for everyone. This is something that owners will need to work on at home, but as veterinary professionals we can help pick up on these problems and guide owners in the right direction. If a cat is not apparently ‘happy’ about going in a carrier, then an owner is probably going to think twice about bringing ‘Fluffy’ in to get that cough looked at. This can be bad for the cat, and bad for business.

Dr Sarah Ellis (@sarahlhellis) has written an excellent blog post on Katzenworld about how to train cats to like their carrier. The post starts off with some tips about what makes a good cat carrier and then goes through how to counter-condition cats to their own carrier. It would be a great post for veterinary professionals to be familiar with and then make owners aware of. A veterinarian could quite easily have a chat to an owner about carrier training if they mention having troubles, or if the cat is clearly not happy about going back in at the end of a consultation. It could even just be something we casually ask, for example ‘How does fluffy like her carrier?’.

I was in a pet store recently (acquiring more toys for my spoilt felines) and happened to be walking past a couple who were looking at cat carriers. They were complaining about their cat not liking the one they already own. They saw the cat toys I had and (guessing I had a menagerie) asked me which one I used for my cats. As a busy-body (and cat enthusiast) I could not help but ask them if they had ever heard of cat carrier training. They had not and were very interested to hear about it. I gave them the link and they (happily) trotted off to have a read.

Cat friendly veterinary practices

Veterinarians and clinics with cat friendly approaches can also get involved in feline environmental enrichment. Once cats arrive at the clinic, in the carrier they have now learnt to like, it is up to us to make that experience as positive as possible. Not only do we want them to come back, but we also want to tip the balance of their possible experiences towards the positive side as much as possible [1, 2] – if we are aiming to be the animal welfare advocates that the New Zealand Veterinary Council would like us to be.

Low stress handling techniques and clinic design can have a massive impact on the experiences of our feline patients. Many clinics could be re-designed with feline patients in mind (e.g. separate dog and cat waiting areas, separate consulting rooms, and separate hospitalisation areas with each species comfort in mind), but there are also simple cost-effective ways of providing for our feline patients. Cats do not respond well to aggressive handling techniques. How many veterinarians or veterinary nurses have ‘lost’ a cat after pushing it too far? It makes it very difficult to work with them in the future – and the owners are never very impressed. The International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM) recognise this and have written an excellent article [5] in The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery about feline-friendly handling guidelines.

The ISFM are also responsible for the worldwide Cat Friendly Clinic programme, designed to increase the number of cat friendly veterinary clinics by providing free information – to enable clinics to work towards a voluntary accreditation scheme. The importance of handling cats in clinics is emphasised by this scheme. Once accredited, veterinary clinics can advertise this accreditation to cat owners and are then eligible to be listed on the ISFM website. Veterinarians and clinics can register their interest for free to receive more information about this accreditation scheme.

In addition to all these differences in the ways we treat our feline patients, there are some things we can do for them that we are already doing for dogs. Providing yummy cat friendly treats in consult rooms can be used to reinforce any positive experiences and counter-condition pets to the veterinary clinic [6]. If it makes it easier to examine an overweight cat after a few treats are given, then this is probably going to do more good than potential harm – so long as we are clear with the owner why we are doing it in this instance. Giving cats a little more time, once out of their carrier, to acclimatise themselves to the room (as we so often allow for in dogs) is also likely to help the consult go smoothly.

These are just a few of the ways that, as veterinarians, we can improve the lives of our feline patients – at least during the time that we have some control over their experiences. Enriching the lives of cats is not just good for them; it is also good for us.

References

  1. Green, T.C. and D.J. Mellor, Extending ideas about animal welfare assessment to include ‘quality of life’ and related concepts. New Zealand Veterinary Journal, 2011. 59(6): p. 263-71.
  2. Yeates, J.W. and D.C.J. Main, Assessment of positive welfare: A review. Veterinary Journal, 2008. 175(3): p. 293-300.
  3. McMillan, F.D., Maximizing quality of life in ill animals. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 2003. 39(3): p. 227-235.
  4. Vogt, A.H., et al., AAFP-AAHA feline life stage guidelines. Journal of feline medicine and surgery, 2010. 12(1): p. 43-54.
  5. Rodan, I., et al., AAFP and ISFM Feline-Friendly Handling Guidelines. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 2011. 13(5): p. 364-375.
  6. Westlund, K., To feed or not to feed: Counterconditioning in the veterinary clinic. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 2015. 10(15): p. 433-437.

Studying for an ANZCVS Membership Examination

Are you a registered veterinarian working in New Zealand or Australia who wants an extra challenge? Do you have a particular subject area that interests you and makes you want to learn more? And/or do you just want a few extra letters after your name? You might want to consider sitting an examination for Membership of the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists (ANZCVS). This is something I am currently working towards, and I just wanted to share what I have learnt so far about the Membership process.

Disclaimer: This post is designed to increase awareness of veterinary membership examinations and therefore gives details of the process from the author’s perspective. The author is in no way affiliated with the ANZCVS and details of the examination process may change – you should check out the ANZCVS website and Candidate Handbook for official information.

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Malibu helping me study the Five Domains Model

Eligibility

First things first, who can sit the exams? There are a few basic requirements, namely that you:

  1. Are eligible to be registered as a veterinarian in New Zealand or Australia and;
  2. Graduated at least 3.5 years before taking an exam.

This is fairly standard across the board. On the Application Form, they also ask you to provide your curriculum vitae and emphasise “the extent of your experience in the area in which you are applying for examination”. It does mention on the Membership Page that you should have spent at least 4 years in a full-time ‘veterinary activity’ between graduating and sitting the exam. So this is something to think about.

At this point it is also a good idea to check out the individual Subject Guidelines for additional requirements.

Choosing a Subject

So which subject are you going to sit your Membership examination in? There are a lot to choose from! They are currently divided into three categories:

  • Category 1 are the subjects that are examined every year. These are the big four of: Small Animal Medicine, Small Animal Surgery, Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, and Veterinary Radiology (Small Animal)
  • Category 2 are examined every second year – you will need to find out when exactly. The ‘Membership Examination 2017’ offerings are available now.
  • Category 3 are no longer offered, but have been at some point in the past

When you are choosing a subject, it is a good idea to read the individual Subject Guidelines for the areas you are interested in. They tend to list the learning outcomes for the particular subject and give a list of recommended reading. Although this list is not exhaustive, it will give you a pretty good idea of what you will be studying.

It is fairly important to be interested in the study area!

Practicalities of the Examinations: where, when, and how much?

Again, check out the ‘Membership Examinations 2017’ on the website for 2017 dates and fees.

How much does it cost? The 2017 examination fee is set at A$1,323. This does not include your flights and accommodation to sit the oral and/or practical examination(s) on the Gold Coast in Australia.

Where and when do I sit it? The written examinations are sat in June and are available at various testing locations throughout New Zealand and Australia. However, the oral and/or practical examination(s) are held in June/July on the Gold Coast in Australia – it is coupled with the College Science Week.

Find out More

I have tried to hyperlink the relevant areas throughout this post, but I still recommend you:

  • Visit the ANZCVS website, which has information on the Membership Page
  • Check out the Candidate Handbook for more details
  • Read up on the Subject Guidelines and Chapter overviews
  • Think about it!
  • Apply – applications have to be in early (31st October in the year before your exam)!
  • Find a mentor (more about this in the Candidate Handbook) and download Sample Examination Papers
  • Talk to people! I cannot over-stress the importance of this. As I mentioned, the subject guidelines are not exhaustive and may be a little overwhelming. I highly recommend finding someone that has successfully sat the same examination so that you can pick their brain for tips and tricks.

I have found going to veterinary conferences (e.g. AVA, NZVA, and College Science Week) really helpful. There’s tonnes of awesome people to meet and a lot of good study material is presented in the relevant stream(s) for your subject. You could even meet your examiners there!

That is probably enough information to get you started. If you have any comments or questions, please get in touch.

My Research

As I finished my postgraduate diploma last year I was recently asked by Massey University to complete a graduate profile for their website. This gave me a chance to reflect on my research and where I am heading with my career. I also thought it would be a great opportunity to write my first blog post – using a combination of the questions Massey supplied me and a few of my own:

Kat Paws B+W
Kat Welfare Matters Facebook Page

What is your thesis title?

Quality of life assessment in geriatric cats

Please expand on your research topic and why it appealed.

I am undertaking research in animal welfare. My PhD focuses on the assessment of quality of life (QoL) in companion animals, specifically as it relates to end-of-life or euthanasia decision-making in cats.

I have been trained as a veterinarian to detect, diagnose, and treat animals – often with the intention of extending their lives. As the level of veterinary care available to cats has improved, many of these animals are living longer. This, coupled with the popularity of feline pets in New Zealand, has led to an increase in the number of geriatric animals. But is this increase in life expectancy also representative of a good QoL? How can we assess this? And, more importantly, how can we help pet owners and veterinarians improve their end-of-life decision-making to safeguard animal welfare?

I am focusing on the methods currently available to assess QoL in companion animals, and how these could be improved upon to better assist owners and veterinarians in making end-of-life decisions. I will explore the factors that influence end-of-life decision-making in geriatric cats, and cats with chronic disease, from both the owners’ and veterinarians’ perspective. I would like to know what processes veterinarians and owners are currently using to make end-of-life decisions, including what is being taught in undergraduate veterinary science curriculums across Australasia. I am particularly interested in geriatric cats and/or cats with chronic disease whose slow progression, and eventual death, may result in them being kept alive beyond an ‘acceptable’ level for their quality of life.

Why did you decide to do a PhD?

I knew early on during my undergraduate degree in veterinary science that I would like to either become a specialist veterinarian or enter into a research career. After graduating I undertook an internship at a specialist practice in Auckland, followed by some time in general practice, after which I realised clinical practice was not for me. I returned to Massey University in 2015 to undertake a Postgraduate Diploma, with a focus on animal welfare science, and further developed my research topic. I was lucky enough to be selected for one of Massey’s doctoral scholarships and started my full-time PhD in March 2016.

Why did you decide to do your PhD at Massey?

Massey University was the obvious choice. It has some of the top animal welfare scientists in the world based in the Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre (AWSBC) of the Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences (IVABS). I also jumped at the opportunity to return to the veterinary school and the potential to be involved with future veterinary scientists.

Describe your study experience/support from supervisors.

My supervisory team is made up of top representatives of their field. Two are based in IVABS and the third is from the School of Psychology. It is great having a mixed team on my side – we have really interesting discussions with very different points of view. We meet regularly and I feel like I can always approach them for a chat.

I am also very lucky to have met and made friends with a really supportive group of postgraduate students. It is good to have that support network to share stories with and laugh about the silly things that we do. The IVABS postgraduate team are also very supportive – our lovely administrator goes above and beyond to make our lives that much easier.

Have you done any internships or leadership programmes while at Massey?

I was invited to act as a facilitator for VetStart 2016 – a programme for first year veterinary undergraduate science and veterinary technology students. I had enjoyed the programme as a student and was excited to be invited to attend and co-facilitate the same experience for a group of students. The camp involved team-building exercises as well as outdoors activities, experiential learning exercises, and a karaoke evening.

What are your plans for the future?

While completing my PhD, I will be studying for the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists (ANZCVS) membership examination in animal welfare. This will bring me one step closer towards becoming a specialist in animal welfare. I hope to continue in the academic/research field and be actively involved in supporting the next generation of veterinarians and animal scientists.