Sarah Ellis, Chair of the new iCatCare Feline Wellbeing Panel talks to us about this new initiative.
Why was the iCatCare Feline Wellbeing Panel set up?
Up until 2015, International Cat Care had an external group of UK feline behaviour experts which it consulted several times a year to discuss emergent cat welfare issues, tap into expert insight and progress specific projects such as best practice guidance on a range on topics, for example, the ISFM/AAFP Environmental Needs Guidelines. This panel showcased our collaborative nature of working and reinforced our belief that to really understand a subject area, a team of people from different professions and experience is needed.
In the past 5 years, expertise in feline behaviour and mental wellbeing has rapidly been gaining momentum with a corresponding increase in published research in the field from across the globe. With the growth of International Cat Care we decided to restructure and expand our group to give it international insight and voice and to bring together a group of passionate international feline mental wellbeing professionals from different backgrounds to collaboratively work together for the greater good of cats.
What does Feline Wellbeing really mean?
When we talk about Feline Wellbeing, we are referring to the mental wellbeing of the cat. This, alongside the physical health of the cat contribute to its welfare status. Cats can suffer both physically and mentally. Understanding how to improve a cat’s mental wellbeing or prevent it from mental suffering in the first place involves deep understanding of the behavioural, emotional and cognitive capabilities and needs of the cat. At iCatCare we very much value the mental wellbeing of the cat in equal measure to its physical health and believe the two are deeply interlinked. For example, many disease processes are exacerbated by stress and many casts displaying problem behaviours have underlying medical issues that are contributing to the problem behaviour. Likewise, the way we expect cats to live alongside us in our everyday lives can be stressful for them and we can inadvertently cause them problems because we do not understand their needs. For example, not all cats enjoy living alongside other cats and may experience fear, anxiety or frustration as a result. Often the behavioural indicators of such feelings are subtle and owners may miss them, for example, one cat may choose to stay outside of the home or remain still and quiet within the home while the other moves around the home.
What is the vision and purpose of the FWP?
Our vision is to bring enthusiastic experts in feline mental wellbeing from across the world who share our charity mission together in a virtual community.
To enable people to understand cats’ individual needs and perspective better, so that they can act in the best interests of each cat and its welfare.
These people will share insight from different geographical regions, different cultures and different legislation governing cats. Together, we begin to build a much richer picture of the various issues that impact negatively on feline mental wellbeing and how best to tackle them in a collaborative manner. We truly believe knowledge, insight and experience is much more powerful when shared – the sum of the parts is greater than the whole when trying to impact cat welfare.
Can you tell us a bit more about the experts on the panels?
We recognise that the mental wellbeing of the cat involves taking into account its behavioural, emotional, cognitive and health needs. Thus, working in this area draws on many disciplines and we have reflected that with the breadth of professional and academic background in our panel members. In addition, we recognise that to have real impact, we need international representation as situations differ for cats across different cultures and geographic regions. As a result, we have 26 members from 13 different countries and from a variety of areas of specialism including veterinary behavioural medicine, feline veterinary nursing, animal welfare inspectorate, homing unowned cats, ethology and research.
How will the panel work?
The panel is a brand-new initiative so we are currently taking the time to get to know one another, share our current work and views and discuss what we believe are the biggest wellbeing concerns to cats. This all occurs within the International Cat Care Community – a new dedicated online platform where both the ISFM Academy and the iCatCare Feline Wellbeing Panel can work.
We hope our discussions will lead to new initiatives to help people understand cats and to put that understanding into practise to the welfare benefit of cats around the world. Several of our panel members are researchers, writers and educators in some capacity and so look out for some of their own research and research translations on our new Spotlight on Science section in the blog. In fact, in our next Spotlight on Science piece being launched on the 3rd June, two of our Panel members, Professor Daniel Mills and Dr Daniela Ramos will be discussing their latest published research on feline housesoiling. Other possible ways our work may translate into action may involve production of best practise guidelines, international campaigns, collaborative teaching and educational materials and new dedicated programs. We aim to be fluid and reactive to current issues so nothing is set in stone at this stage.
Can anyone contact the Feline Wellbeing Panel?
Within your professional work with cats, if you feel there are any areas where you feel expertise or innovation from a collective group of experts would help you, your profession or another specific group of cat carers to improve the mental wellbeing of cats, please contact me, as the panel chair, and I can propose questions and challenges to this dynamic group. We hope to create novel solutions for varied problems that impact cat wellbeing and are very keen to listen to everyone’s voice. You can contact me, Sarah Ellis, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
How can you help with the work of the Feline Wellbeing Panel?
As well as highlighting your feline wellbeing concerns to the panel via the chair, the panel will at times need your help, for example, to hear your voice on certain issues in your cat related profession and to potentially pilot new initiatives. The best way to keep up to speed and hear any announcements for help is to subscribe to the iCatCare community newsletter. The subscribe button can be found at the bottom of the charities’ website homepage https://icatcare.org