Local Government Magazine
Animal welfare

A Code of Welfare for cats created for councils

In our April issue respected animal welfarist Bob Kerridge shared his ‘Blueprint for Humane Cat Management’ to assist local authorities in the management of community cats.

Although practical local regulations will do a lot to improve the welfare of cats in the community, the ‘Best Practice’ principles will ensure a harmonious relationship between cats, the community, and the environment. Bob precises this blueprint in his second article.

By merging the relevant portions of the existing ‘Code of Welfare for Cats’, issued by the Ministry for Primary Industries, (MPI), and enforced through the Animal Welfare Act, with the ‘Blueprint for Humane Cat Management’, an accurate document detailing ‘Best Practice Guidelines’ has emerged that can be confidently used by territorial authorities as their management guide, as well as effectively advising the public of their community responsibilities.

Feline definitions

The categories of cats are clearly defined in the code of welfare as:

Companion – Common domestic cat that lives with humans and is dependent on humans for its welfare.

Stray – Companion cat which is lost or abandoned and which is living as an individual or in a group (colony). Stray cats have many of their needs indirectly supplied by humans, and live around centres of human habitation.

Feral – A cat that is not a stray cat and has none of its needs provided by humans. Feral cats do not generally live around centres of human habitation.

Council staff should be fully aware of these definitions, and their legal obligations in dealing with them, to comply with the Animal Welfare Act.


It is critically important that owners/guardians identify cats in their care to enable repatriation if lost or injured. While micro-chipping is the most useful and sensible tool, the use of collars has in the past been the only way of identifying a pet.

However, the use of collars now has cautionary notes in the code of welfare.

‘Collars, where used, must be fitted to the cat in such a way that the risk of injury is avoided.  Only collars that are elasticised, or provide a quick-release mechanism, should be used.’

The microchip is now considered the only effective identification.

Where before the code suggested cats should be identified with a microchip, we now recommend that for their security all companion and stray cats be micro-chipped, and councils should support this principle, and assist financially with the chipping and registration costs. Some stray cats have their ear-tipped for identification, and these should be recognised by council officers as being cared for.


Cats by nature are free-ranging animals and, as confinement only inhibits their normal patterns of behaviour, the code does not require cats to be confined to the indoors, except in some ecologically sensitive areas. If caging or restricted access to the outdoors is enforced, certain minimum standards do apply for their health and welfare.

Food and water bowls must be provided and washed daily, access to one deep litter tray per cat must be provided, and must be attended to regularly, with faeces and moisture-laden litter removed, and the tray cleaned and disinfected. Caged cats must have sufficient room to enable them to stretch and move around with access to climbing ramps, platforms, sleeping shelves, scratching pads, and with appropriate areas to feed and toilet.

Limiting the number of cats per household should be approached with caution given the variable circumstances applying both in locations and housing facilities. Exemptions are also needed for volunteer cat carers, foster homes and breeding stock.

Should a large population of cats in a residence cause a public nuisance, or potential health risk, the council should have the authority to reduce numbers on those grounds alone.  Outdoor cats must have ready access to a safe area indoors at all times, preferably through a cat door.


The code of welfare is very clear in the matter of de-sexing.

Cats/kittens should be de-sexed at, or before puberty, and veterinarians, pet shops, breeders, local councils and animal welfare organisations should continuously encourage the de-sexing of all cats in the community.

Such is the importance of de-sexing, not only in controlling over population, but also in enhancing the general welfare of cats, it is generally felt this should be a mandatory component of ‘best practice’ discipline.

The only way this will come close to reality will be with by-laws that prohibit the sale of cats/kittens from pet shops, adoption from shelters and rescue groups, or passing on by individuals, if not de-sexed before sale/adoption.

Additionally, local authorities should assist, not only by enforcing such regulations, but also in providing financial assistance to recognised cat rescue groups who attend to the de-sexing of stray cats/kittens.

Stray cats

I have previously mentioned the free-ranging nature of cats, and the special ‘stray’ category assigned to them in the code of welfare which legally protects them.

Given our nation’s overall affection for cats, it is not surprising that there are a high proportion of stray cats living in the community, generally in urban areas where there is shelter and a plentiful supply of food. Many live singly or in colonies described by the code as being: Cared for by individuals under a management plan, agreed with the landowner and/or the local council.

The internationally accepted method for the humane management of stray cats is known as Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR), where three of its essential ingredients are attended to.

These are, de-sexing, identification and attending to their continuing care and well-being, (full details are in the code of welfare).

In several countries legislation and, in some cases, finance exists to support TNR activities, recognising the standard of care administered to these stray cats by volunteers, and the community service provided through their activities, eventually resulting in a noticeable reduction of their numbers by natural attrition.

Local Authorities can play a major role by accepting and promoting TNR in their communities, financially supporting those who undertake it and identifying ‘safe zones’ to protect those cats being cared for.

‘Best practice guidelines exist in the trapping of stray cats in the code of welfare’, while additional disciplines apply that relate to microchip checks, the adoption process, and the operation in sensitive ecological areas.

Humane cat control

There is little in the welfare code on this subject, other than regulations that apply to the euthanasia of cats, which must not be forgotten.

Under the Animal Welfare Act, (section 12c), it is an offence to kill any animal such that it suffers unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress.  Cats should be euthanased by a veterinarian, and it must be carried out in such a way to ensure death occurs quickly.  Cats/kittens must not be killed by drowning.

The principals extrapolated in the Animal Welfare Act (above), must take precedence when considering measures to be used to control companion and stray cats in the community, and councils must be cognisant of that obligation.

Special qualifications apply to ensure the humane, safe and ethical use of any lethal methods, if being considered, and the use of kill traps and/or any poisons is highly regulated and needs control measures to be in place, and adhered to.

There is considerable information in the ‘Blueprint for Humane Cat Management’ on this subject detailing the legal and moral responsibilities of authorities, which needs to be fully studied to avoid the unacceptable level of cruelty inflicted, or proposed, by some authorities.


(These are excerpts only.  The full Code of Welfare for cats is available from the Ministry for Primary Industry or online at www.mpi.govt.nz


Bob Kerridge has had a long and distinguished career in animal welfare in New Zealand as the chief executive/executive director/board member of SPCA Auckland, board member/national president of the RSPCA, founder/chair NZ Companion Animal Council, NZCAC, and director of the World Society, WSPA.

He was honoured (2018) as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, ONZM, for services to animal welfare and governance.