|Hero likes his catnip in pots in inconvenient locations.|
The majority of those who live with companion animals want to make sure we meet their needs. But some people want to go that extra bit and spoil their pet. There’s nothing wrong with that, in principle, if you’re meeting all of those animal’s welfare needs and not inadvertently stressing them out by overwhelming them with "stuff".
One model used to discuss animal needs and allow them to lead a life worth living is the “five domains” of animal welfare: nutrition, environment, health and behaviour, which give rise to the fifth domain, mental state. For example, when it comes to nutrition, we should be providing animals with: opportunities to eat and drink ENOUGH (not too much), a balanced diet and some variety. Of course not all animals appreciate variety in their diet, some prefer the same foods or the same limited range of foods. Inflicting a wide variety of foods on these animals won’t necessarily benefit them.
Whatever ways we try to improve the lives of animals, we need to consider the animals’ point of view. It might be cute to accessorise a dog in a diamond-encrusted collar, but at best the dog may lack awareness of the value of such an accessory. At worst, it may be heavy, abrasive or catch on fur. Similarly, there’s not much point forking out big bucks on a luxury pet bed if you aren’t going to put it exactly where your cat likes to sleep.
SAT reader Kerry alerted us to a new trend: “wine” for cats. We appreciate that the wine is not alcoholic, and that it is “essentially catnip water”. But the idea seems anthropomorphic in a way that goes a too far.
Apollo Peak, one of the manufacturers, argues “why drink alone?” when they provide a safe product that cats may decide to try if it is served. As a vet, however, I worry that such misdirected love (cats would much prefer to engage with a catnip or cat mint plant than drink a distilled version of) may detract from useful efforts to improve feline welfare.
For example, if the way you engage with your cat is the pour your cat some wine, then sit down and sink a few of your own, you’re not really spending time with your cat. Cats don’t drink for whole evenings like we do, unless they’re in fulminant renal failure in which case they’re more likely to be guzzling water out of any source they find it in – the shower recess, a dog bowl, the fishtank, the glass of water you left by the bed. People considering having wine with their cat are thinking about themselves – not the cat. As onemanufacturer told Goodfood.com.au, “The best part of the idea is having wine with your pet – that is what drives it. It’s not about the taste for the cat.”
Yet while you are drinking wine with your cat, you’re not brushing him or her or throwing a scrunched up bit of paper for him or her to chase down the hallway. You're probably sitting there desperately egging your cat on to try this new offering. The way cats choose to spend their time budget may hold no interest for us, but then we’re not cats. They are the experts. They like to do things that often humans don’t want them to – mark things with their claws, chase insects and shadows, climb on shelves that give them a safe view of the rest of the household, hide in the cupboards…in fact, my cat Michael’s favourite beverage is hot shower water infused with whoever happens to be in the shower at the time. That’s a pain because during this period whoever is in the shower can’t use soap or shampoo, but she will walk straight past a full bowl of fresh, clean water to get it.
According to a number of sources, pet wines are selling like hotcakes. Its great if they are safe, but that’s only one aspect. If animals aren’t engaging with products like these the way people do, the big question is, in purchasing and using these products, are we misusing our own time and financial budgets when we could be genuinely improving animal welfare?