Increased demand for pets in lockdown means kittens are being sold prematurely online

Being taken away from their mothers too young can cause health issues for kittens (Picture: Getty Images)

On Wednesday, November 11, Theo Zeal, a photographer who lives in Peckham, went to collect a kitten he had found on Pets4Homes that was advertised as being eight weeks old and ready to go to a new home.

‘When I went to go and pick it up, I was ushered to a downstairs room,’ Theo tells ‘A woman went upstairs and got the kitten, so I never actually saw the [kittens’] mum or its brothers and sisters.’  

The first thing that struck Theo was how small the kitten was.

‘I thought “wow, that is a tiny cat” but that it must be OK, because obviously they wouldn’t sell it if it wasn’t healthy for it to leave,’ he explains.

Initially, the kitten didn’t show any health problems. But after the first day it was scarcely eating, had bad diarrhoea, and spent most of its time asleep. At that point the kitten weighed approximately 310g, lighter than a can of Coke. 

Two days later, Theo took the kitten to The Neighbourhood Vet in East Dulwich. When vet Rory Cowlman saw the kitten the first thing he said was ‘there is no way that cat is eight weeks old’.

Theo’s kitten, who was tiny when he first came home

Rory adds that since the first lockdown was announced in March the number of new puppies and kittens being brought has astronomically increased. 

‘Lockdown has meant that everybody wants a pet. Every day I’m seeing new puppies and kittens,’ he says. 

Of the dozens of new kittens that are being bought in every day, at least half of the ones Rory sees are under eight weeks old. 

‘Because the demand for kittens has gone up, people with cats which haven’t been neutered who really don’t know what they are doing are breeding them,’ Rory tells us.

‘We are seeing them very, very underweight, too small, not wormed, not flea treated, not vet checked or anything like that and people are taking them because there is so much demand and don’t know what warning signs to look out for.’

Rory explains that being separated from their mothers too early can affect a kitten for the rest of its life.

‘If the kitten is weaned too early, they won’t have developed the ability to digest solid food or get nutrition from that food,’ he says. ‘If they aren’t getting their mothers’ milk, they aren’t getting any of the antibodies from it, so their immune system takes a hit and that puts them more at risk of things like cat flu.’

Demand for pets has boomed in lockdown (Picture: Getty Images)

Theo tried to contact the owner, who initially ignored his messages, then recently replied insisting that the kitten was eight weeks old. 

‘The thing about sites like Gumtree is that there are few regulations,’ says Theo. ‘You’re just talking to a person and taking their word for it.

‘There is no contract, no forms, nothing to prove anything, so you’re doing it on trust.

‘If you are a first-time pet buyer it’s likely you’re going to be quite naive about it, like I was.’

Over the past two weeks Theo’s kitten has put on weight and has begun to show affection and playing.

‘He likes sitting in my slippers,’ says Theo. ‘But technically he should still be with his mum.’

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