4 Games to Play on Rainy Days

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As the days get darker, colder and wetter it becomes less and less appealing to play with our pets for long periods outdoors. While it is still essential to take dogs for daily walks and make sure cats are remaining active, it’s always helpful to have some extra tricks up your sleeve to keep them busy and engaged without getting completely waterlogged. Here are our 4 favourite games for rainy days.

Puzzle treats

There are plenty of different versions of puzzle treats. One of the most popular is the KONG range which comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and there’s even an “Extreme” range for particularly persistent chewers. You simply fill them with a snack food (there are hundreds of “recipes” for fillings online) and give them to your pet for hours of entertainment.

Tablet games

Technology is much a massive part of many of our lives it’s hardly surprising that there is now a market for apps and games specifically for pets and their owners. For those with tablets or smartphones there is a lot to choose from; laser pointer simulators, mouse-chasing games and even nose-activated cameras. Just remember to put on a hard case or screen protector if you’re going to let your pet play on your phone or tablet, and supervise them at all times.

Training practice

Training is a great way to bond with your pet, whatever their age or species. Spending time working together to either drill old commands or learn a new skill will keep your pet mentally engaged and give you both something physical to enjoy together when it’s cold outside.

Hide-and-Seek

Who says Hide-and-Seek is a children’s game? There are lots of ways to play, like hiding a treat or favourite toy and telling your pet to go and find them, but I find the best way is to involve another person. Get them to hide out of sight with a treat while you keep your dog or cat in another room with you, them get the other person to call them. While your pet goes to find the other player, you can hide yourself, also with a treat. When your pet has found the other person, you can call your pet to you while they hide again. This is a fun way to give your pet a bit of a run around while keeping them on their toes and can go on for as long as the treats last!

What’s your favourite rainy-day game to play with your pet? Do you have an app they like, or a favourite toy? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!

5 Stories that touched our hearts

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Every year there are stories in the news about heroic animals and pet-lovers all around the world who do incredible things. Here are just a handful of news stories that we felt were especially moving this year.

Rescuers save dog who fell into a tar pit

In August this year an unfortunate dog was discovered frozen on position having fallen into a tar pit in India. Animal Aid volunteers spent two days massaging him with vegetable oil to gently melt the solidified tar and cleaning the poor dog’s fur to get rid of the sticky residue left behind. The dog is now fully recovered. It’s wonderful to read about people who are willing to dedicate so much time and work to a stray animal.

Tara the cat rescues her owner’s son from a dog attack

The world was shocked in May by footage of a young boy cycling in his driveway before being viciously attacked by a neighbour’s dog. This story could have had a tragic ending if it weren’t for the boy’s cat, Tara, who leapt to his rescue, fighting the dog off and chasing him away so that his parents could tend to his wounds. The four-year old needed stitches but called his cat “a hero”.

Supporters pledge over £2 million to help rebuild the Manchester Dogs Home

After the Manchester Dogs Home was set ablaze by an arsonist, dog-lovers all over the country were stunned and horrified. Dozens of dogs tragically lost their lives, and nothing will ever make up for the senseless death of those poor animals. Thousands of people rallied and donated money, food and bedding to the shelter to help it get back on its feet. To date there is still a lot of work to be done, but the response has been truly staggering and it has restored faith in humanity for those who were jaded by the horrendous arson attack.

Mystery cat makes its way from Israel to Devon

A 28-year old shop worker tried to trace the owners of a stray cat who visited her at work, only to find that he was originally from Israel! It’s still not known how the cat managed to travel so far, or where his owners are, but the search continues.

Sakina the Donkey receives treatment in Marrakech

We have often sung the praises of SPANA and we couldn’t resist including the story of Sakina, a donkey whose owner trekked ten miles to make sure his beloved donkey received treatment, after her back legs were badly burned on an oven in a busy marketplace. Sakina is still being treated for her injuries, which resulted in swelling and lameness, but she is expected to make a full recovery, and has even made a new friend called Duha.

Which stories in the news touched your heart this year? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!

6 Reasons to Love Christmas with Pets

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We love our pets 365 days a year, but there’s something magical about Christmas time that makes us want to be with those who are special to us. Here are our top six reasons we love Christmas with pets.

1 – It’s a great excuse to buy them presents!

Many pet owners need no excuse to buy gifts for their pets year-round, but if your pet has a slightly careworn cuddly toy or a seriously frayed scratching post you have the perfect reason to not only buy a brand-spanking new one, but to wrap it up beautifully too. Just remember to wrap it in a pet-safe way by excluding any ribbons or small parts that can be swallowed.

2 – Christmas baking is so much fun!

We’ve really enjoyed testing out some pet-friendly Christmas recipes, and we’ve posted one for you here. It’s a really great way to do something special for your pet in a healthful way.

3 – Time off together!

This year, with Christmas falling so close to a weekend, most of us will get a slightly longer block of time off than usual. This means we can spend even more quality time with our loved ones, including our pets!

4 – Walking in a winter wonderland!

Watching pets interact with the world outside is always incredibly rewarding and fun. If you’ve ever watched a puppy play in the snow for the first time, or a cat paw at a frosty branch, you are sure to be filled with seasonal joy. Just be sure to follow these tips for keeping your pet safe outdoors this winter.

5 – Sending Christmas Cards!

Every Christmas I find myself struggling to think of what to write in my Christmas cards to friends and family until, last year, I hit upon the idea of sending cards from my pets! It’s a fun, charming way to give those close to you an update in a more original way, and it’s a great way to justify including adorable photos of your pets. If you want to help an animal charity this Christmas you can choose to buy one of the many charity Christmas cards on the market.

6 – Sharing the love!

Christmas is a time for giving, good cheer and great company, and what greater company is there than an adoring pet?

What do you love most about spending the holiday season with your animal friends? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter?

7 Awesome Animal Videos

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We all like to spend a little time watching animal videos on Youtube. Here are some of our favourites (click on the titles of the videos to visit them on Youtube).

Dog Plays in Water Fountain

This joyful clip shows a dog playing in a large water fountain, chasing spurts of water as they come up from different parts of the ground. There are few things more enjoyable than watching a dog have a wonderful time!

A very furry wake-up call

Many dog owners will tell you that they can rely on their dogs to wake them up in the morning. Luckily for us these owners filmed their canine alarm clocks for us all to see!

Murkin and kittens

We often hear stories about animals who “adopt” babies of another species, and this Golden Retriever, Murkin, is one such animal, having taken on the responsibility of caring for a litter of kittens who had been abandoned. Watching them interact is very heart-warming and incredibly cute.

Adorable foal goes outside for the first time

This video shows a Danish foal called Ljúf going outside with his mother for the very first time. What makes this even lovelier is the fact that this video is from 2009, Ljúf is now 5 and the same Youtube channel has videos of him being ridden by his owner!

You’ve got a friend in me

There are certain animal combinations that never fail to be adorable. This video of a cat and a rabbit playing together is unbelievably sweet (though we would advise being extremely careful when introducing animals to one another and never leaving them unsupervised!)

The Cat’s Guide to loving a Human

This comical video gives a handy guide from two cats called Cole and Marmalade, giving tips on how to love a human. It’s tongue-in-cheek but any cat lover would be able to sympathise.

Kitten time lapse

Time-lapse videos are becoming more and more popular and this was one of our favourites, following a little of kittens throughout the first 50 days of their lives.

What is your favourite animal video? Do you like to take videos of your pets? Let us know!

8 Books about Animals

books about animals

Groucho Marx famously said, “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” We’ve put together a list of classic books about animals that anyone would be happy to see sticking out of their stocking.

1 – Fantastic Mr Fox – Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl wrote a number of books that featured animals (tortoises in Esio Trot, the squirrels in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the mice in The Witches), but Fantastic Mr Fox is among the best. It tells the story of Mr Fox and his daring exploits, stealing food from three bungling farmers.

2 – The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

The classic book The Wind in the Willows has inspired countless films, TV series and stage adaptations. It has captured the imaginations of children and adults alike with its vibrant characters, all of whom are animals living along a river.

3 – The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams

The Velveteen Rabbit tells the inspiring tale of a stuffed rabbit toy who dreams of being a real rabbit, but knows that his owner needs him. The story is in turns tragic and life-affirming, and is sure to move even the most stoic reader to tears (and is, incidentally, my personal favourite).

4 – Black Beauty – Anna Sewell

If you’ve ever seen the 1994 film adaptation of this definitive children’s novel you’ll already know what an emotional rollercoaster it is. Telling the story of a black horse from foalhood to his twilight years the reader follows Beauty as he makes new friends, faces hardship, loss and redemption.

5 – The House at Pooh Corner – A.A. Milne

A.A. Milne’s short stories about the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood have become well-beloved all over the world. As well as telling delightful accounts of the many adventures of a merry band of animals, it also teaches the reader the true meaning of friendship, love and loyalty. Quotes such as “Some people care too much, I think it’s called love.” will stick with you forever.

6 – Stuart Little – E. B. White

Stuart Little is a mouse born into a human family. The novel is an outsider tale about thriving despite your differences and has never fallen out of favour since its publication in the 1940s. Stuart races boats, fights off cats and has many adventures despite adversaries and challenges along the way.

7 – The Tale of Peter Rabbit – Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Peter Rabbit is the story which made Beatrix Potter’s name. Starting life as a character she would write about in letters to the children of family friends, Peter and his friends soon made waves in children’s fiction and have continued to be published to this day.

8 – The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling

Containing a number of short, moralistic stories, The Jungle Book tells tales about a boy called Mowgli who is raised by wolves in the Indian jungle. It uses animal behaviour to teach lessons about life, friendship and what is right and wrong. In fact, it came to be used as a motivational book by the Boy Scouts because of its allegorical material, and this is why the head of a scout pack is named ‘Akela’.

What are your favourite books about animals? What other stories do you think should be on this list? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!

How to Pet-Proof Your Home at Christmas

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It’s Christmas next week, and whilst you may have put all of your decorations up, done all of your Christmas shopping and bought all of the food for your Christmas Dinner, have you really thought about how to pet-proof your home at this time of year? Here are a few things you should think about to make your home as safe for your pet as possible, and to stop any pet-related disasters this Christmas!

Make sure you hang all of your baubles and other decorations on the uppermost branches of your tree. You don’t want any to fall off on to your pet, or drop on the floor for them to stand on! Think about whether investing in those pretty but delicate glass ornaments is really the best thing for your pet, especially if your pet is likely to pounce on the tree!

Christmas lights should also be avoided around the bottom of the tree or anywhere in the home your pet could reach, as you don’t want your pet to chew through any wires and burn their mouth. Also tape the wires to the wall or floor to prevent your pet from chewing or tripping over them. An artificial tree would probably be the best option, since any ingested needles could get caught in your pet’s intestinal lining. Bear in mind that your pet could also drink the water at the base of the tree, which is dangerous with added fertiliser.

Keep any holly and mistletoe out of reach, since these will look like tasty treats to your pet! Leave any edible decorations off your tree so your pet won’t be tempted, and place tinsel way out of reach. Even just a small amount of this can make your pet severely ill. Also, keep any candles high up so that your pet can’t jump up and access them.

If your pet likes to chew, and you don’t want to find out what you’ve got early this year, then make sure you don’t place your presents under the tree. Your curious pet may wander over and rip the paper off, or even worse start chewing the gifts!

Just remember to consider your pet around this time of year, and factor their needs into your Christmas celebrations. That way, you and your pet can have an enjoyable and safe Christmas.

9 Festive Food Swaps

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Christmas always means a couple of weeks of overindulgence for ourselves and our pets. We gorge ourselves of gravy-soaked spuds and chipolata sausages and eventually find ourselves on the sofa with bulging bellies, feeling sleepy and over-stuffed. It’s all too easy to let our pets eat as much as us and snack on leftover Christmas dinner but this can lead to tummy upsets, weight gain or, in the worst cases, choking. Here’s a handy list of 9 Festive Food Swaps that you can tape to the fridge come Christmas Day.

Swap turkey skin for… Turkey giblets!

It’s always tempting to give your dog or cat a bit of crispy turkey skin as a tasty treat while you tuck into your dinner, but turkey skin is nutritionally void and is likely to be very fatty and salty. It would be far better to cook off the giblets (often included inside the carcass) which are full of vitamins. This will make a healthy but delicious titbit.

Swap smoked salmon for… fish-flavoured treats!

If smoked salmon with blinis is one of your favourite Christmas canapés it may seem like second nature to give your cat or dog some of the fishy trimmings. While cooked, unseasoned salmon can be beneficial to dogs, smoked salmon is soaked in brine as part of the treatment process and is, therefore, loaded with salt which can be rough on a pet’s kidneys. There is also a small risk of a parasitic disease called ‘Salmon Poisoning Disease’ which can be fatal. There are also quite high concentrations of magnesium in salmon which can lead to urinary tract infections in cats. Instead, keep your cupboard stocked with some fishy dog or cat treats to satisfy their seafood craving safely.

Swap gravy for… a wet food!

A rich, meaty gravy might seem like a great way to beef up a pet’s usual kibble for a festive luxury but gravy is a cocktail of hazards for a pet. Between the onions and garlic (both poisonous in concentrated form) and high levels of fat and salt it is not the best food for a pet. Instead consider pouring hot water on kibble to turn it into a flavoursome gravy (wait until it’s cooled before giving it to your pet) or consider a high-quality canned food in a gravy or jelly specially formulated for animals.

Swap fat trimmings for… meat!

Giving trimmed-off fat to your pet is often seen as a way to reduce waste while giving them a little treat but it can lead to weight gain and pancreatitis. It is much better to spare a little lean meat as a special indulgence. Turkey breast is particularly good.

Swap pigs-in-blankets for… turkey and bacon bites!

We all love a bacon-wrapped sausage from time to time, and dogs certainly tend to dribble at the faintest whiff of bacon. The fact is that sausages and bacon are both high in fat and salt which can result into weight gain, pancreatitis, kidney stress and hypertension in pets. Luckily there are treats around (like these bacon and turkey bites) which are a little healthier.

Swap mince pies for… pet mince pies!

It’s long been in contention whether refined flour is good for humans, let alone our pets. With ingredients in traditional mince pies including butter, sugar and suet, which are unhealthy for pets, and raisins which are poisonous for dogs, it’s best to keep these well out of the way of enquiring noses. There are plenty of recipes available that contain lean turkey mince and are sugar, wheat and dairy-free so that your pet can have a festive pie that will taste good and do good.

Swap roast potatoes for… mashed sweet potatoes!

White potatoes contain quite a lot of starch, and when they’re roasted they soak up fat and salt. Flavourings like garlic are also harmful. Instead you can whip up a batch of mashed sweet potato which is full of B and C vitamins, making it a delicious, tasty food. Just boil them and give them a squash with a fork. Don’t season them or add anything, they’re fine as they are! You can even bake them plain and scoop them out, but remember to leave them to cool before you feed them to your pet!

Swap Christmas Biscuits for… homemade pet biscuits!

It can be tricky to resist the wide-eyed pleading of a pet if you have a biscuit in your hand, but even a basic biscuit has flour, sugar and butter in it, none of which are very good for animals. That’s without the added dangers of raisins, chocolate or macadamia nuts which are all poisonous. Instead, try making homemade pet biscuits. They’re so quick and easy to make, and your pet will thank you for it! Kept in an airtight container they will last until New Year, unless your pet munches them all.

Swap kedgeree for… rice and eggs!

If your house is anything like mine, a kedgeree on Boxing Day is a must-have for turkey-weary palates and, luckily, a lot of the ingredients are great for pets too. A small amount of rice, boiled egg and unseasoned, cooked white fish will provide a host of health benefits for your pampered pet, just remember that moderation is the key.

10 Charity Gifts We’d Love to Give

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Christmas is a time to celebrate the gift of giving. When you buy a charity gift you’re giving twice; once to the charity and once to the recipient of your thoughtful gift. With this in mind, we’ve put together a charity gifts guide of some of our favourite presents that you can buy to benefit animals this Christmas.

For mum:

The RSPCA online shop has a wonderful range of little gifts perfect for mothers this Christmas. Their range of scented candles is to die for, with plenty of different scents in a beautiful graphic-printed lantern.

For dad:

These 100% cotton classic hankies will go down very well come Christmas, and the fact that they benefit World Animal Protection is an added bonus!

For sister:

If your sister loves makeup but hates animal cruelty consider a gift set from ‘beauty without cruelty’. Not only are their products 100% vegan, they donate a tenth of their profits to the animal charity Wood Green.

For brother:

This Spode Christmas Tree Cheese Knife set is perfect for the cheese aficionado. The festive decorations on the handle are sure to make these a favourite over the Christmas period in the years to come.

For daughter:

PETA has made a name for themselves by supporting animal rights, championing a vegan diet and speaking out against the fur trade and animal testing. This ‘Test tubes not bunnies’ t-shirt will help the animal-lover in your life wear their heart on their sleeve. Well, their front!

For son:

If your son is an animal lover he’ll love playing with this Rapid Response Rick, pushing him about on his quad bike and saving pets in peril!

For baby:

When you have a little one at the table at Christmas time, you can never have too many bibs. This one from WWF is 100% organic (perfect for baby skin) and is sure to catch any spilt gravy!

For wife:

Christmas is a time to choose something special for those you love, especially your other half. This rose gold bracelet is beautiful, but the company it comes from gives you the choice of a charity to benefit from 100% of the retail profits from your purchase. There are a number of charities you can choose from in the Animal Welfare category from the International Otter Survival Foundation to the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund,

For husband:

Earl Wilson said: “A woman may race to get a man a gift but it always ends in a tie.” I don’t think he’ll mind if this is the tie in question! The 100% silk tie has a Labrador-print, a subtle nod to its purpose as a charity gift in aid of Guide Dogs for the Blind.

For four-legged friends:

These retro-style printed tins (one for cats, one for dogs) are full of tasty treats for your pets this winter, and with part of the profits going to the PDSA you can feel satisfied that you’ve given your pet a gift while giving back to homeless and injured animals up and down the country.

The Problem With Buying Pets as Presents

pets as presents

We all have friends or family members who dream of having a pet of their own. You might even have a child who begs for a puppy or kitten for Christmas. The idea of presenting someone with a fluffy little gift is certainly an appealing one, so what’s so wrong with giving pets as presents?

As I’ve mentioned before, we got my dog, Buffy, at Christmas so you could be forgiven for thinking I’m not the person best qualified to argue against giving a pet as a present. The fact of the matter is that my family had wanted a dog for a long time. The adults had sat down to discuss it at length and spent months choosing and visiting breeders. They had decided who would take up the responsibility of training the puppy, whether they would have it microchipped, whether they wanted a boy or a girl, where the nearest vet was, which insurance policy to choose and whether he or she would be allowed upstairs and on the furniture. The reason we got my dog as a family Christmas present is that we chose a reputable, Kennel Club registered breeder who raised her puppies in a home environment, which meant that Buffy cost £500. That’s before you consider all of the other costs of owning a pet. It was more a question of allocation of money; we couldn’t afford a puppy and a karaoke machine.

We put a great deal of thought into getting our pet and, really, she was a gift from all of us to each other. Making the decision over the course of several months as a collaborative choice meant that we knew completely what we were getting ourselves into; we knew the kind of commitment we were making.

One of the problems with the idea of a pet as a present is the commodification of life. Giving a living thing to another person as a gift can add to the idea that animals are possessions rather than living, breathing creatures with feelings. This in turn can lead to poor treatment of animals.

A pet is an animal whose life is in your hands and even small animals like hamsters and fish can live for about five years. Taking on a pet is a commitment and takes time, money and years of love and attention. If you can’t be absolutely sure that the future owner of a pet is willing and able to dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to pet care then you shouldn’t even consider giving them one.

You may think that it’s a sweet idea to get a child a pet for Christmas, but even the most enthusiastic and responsible child is still a child. Their interests and commitments may change as they get older so, if you give your child a pet, you have to be prepared to take a supervisory role and potentially take on full-time care of the pet if the child loses interest or is for any reason unable or unwilling to continue caring for it. You simply cannot guarantee that your child will still be as keen to care for a pet throughout the animal’s lifespan.

One example is the humble rabbit. For some reason people think that rabbits are great presents for children. They are cute and cuddly, they live in the garden so they’re pretty low maintenance, and they eat grass and vegetables so they must be pretty cheap to keep, right? Wrong. I adopted my boy rabbit, Thomas, from a lady I met in a supermarket. She told me that she’d bought him as a present for her children who had lost interest after a month and no longer fed him or cleaned his hutch out. In the two months since I’ve taken him on he’s cost me in the region of £400 for food, bedding, equipment, vaccinations, a new hutch and vet visits. So even a free rabbit isn’t a cheap one. In fact, owning an animal as small as a gerbil can cost around £300 a year just for food and bedding. However you look at it, keeping and providing for an animal is a big financial commitment, whether it’s a mouse or a Mastiff.

It’s not just money you need to apportion to the new addition. To use myself as a case study, between my two rabbits, a Labrador and seven fish I spend roughly 17 hours in an average week on animal care. This includes all cleaning, feeding, walking, socialising and routine maintenance. It has been a huge commitment and, I’ll freely admit, I have had to make sacrifices in my social life to accommodate my animals. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but you would need to be certain that the recipient of the animal is willing and able to prioritise animal care.

Ultimately, there are a lot of points to consider when making the decision as to whether someone is a suitable pet owner. Simply registering an interest or saying that they would love to have a pet is not enough of a reason to buy someone a pet as a gift; how often have you seen someone clamouring for a particular item for Christmas, only to see them lose interest in it months later? In the end I don’t think you should buy a pet for another person as a Christmas present because it’s not a choice that you can make on someone else’s behalf; they have to make it for themselves.

11 Fun Feline Facts

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Here at Animal Friends we’re fans of cats of all sizes. We thought, as a little Christmas treat, we’d clue you in on some awesome cat facts!

11 – Have you ever thought that you and your cat are on the same emotional wavelength? Well, you could be! Studies have shown that a cat’s brain is very similar to a human’s; it processes emotions in exactly the same way.

10 – Cats are great listeners, and we don’t just mean that will they not complain when you tell them about your dreams or about your day at work. They are literally good listeners; they can hear sounds in a far wider range than either humans or dogs.

9 – You probably think that your cat is worth their weight in gold, but the most expensive cat in history really was! His name was Little Nicky and he cost a whopping $50,000 as he was a clone of another cat.

8 – You might think that your cat rubs up against you because they want attention. However, while this is true, they are also rubbing scent on you from glands in their cheeks to let all other cats know that you are their human.

7 – Cats were incredibly important to ancient Egyptian families. So much so that, when a family cat died, they shaved off their eyebrows as a sign of mourning and held elaborate funerals including mummification ceremonies. Subsequently the cat was either entombed with the family or placed in a special cat cemetery with other mummified cats and tiny mummified mice for them to chase in the afterlife.

6 – It’s not just myth that most cats hate water, it’s actually good sense. Most breeds of cats have coats which are not waterproof so are poorly suited to swimming. There is one breed of cat called the Turkish Van which loves swimming, this is because their coats are uniquely textured to slough off water.

5 – In the 1960s two cats in the Dutch embassy in Moscow foiled attempts by Russian spies to bug the offices of Dutch diplomats; they heard the microphones switching on and scratched at the walls until the occupants of the office investigated. They found 30 hidden microphones dotted around the building.

4 – The world’s rarest coffee comes from Indonesia and is called Kopi Luwak, after the cat that lives in the region. The cat eats the coffee berries and partially digests them. The beans are then harvested from the cat dung, cleaned and then roasted.

3 – A cat’s jaws can only open and close, whereas a human’s can grind in all directions. This is why cats are unable to chew large food chunks.

2 – Interestingly there are a number of different names for cats.  A female cat is called a Queen or a Molly, a male cat is called a Tom, Tomcat or Gib, baby cats are called kittens (of course) and a group of cats is called a Clowder, Cluster, Clutter, Glaring or Pounce.

1 – In seven years a male and female cat and their offspring could produce a total of 420,000 kittens! With this in mind, and with thousands of cats and kittens in shelters in need of homes, consider spaying and neutering your pets, and don’t forget to support your local rehoming centre this Christmas!