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Buying a young kitten

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 19:29 UK time, Monday, 2 November 2009

We all know that a pet is for life and not just for Xmas. But if the seller isn't concerned about his animal's welfare, then how can you be sure you're buying a healthy pet?

Francesca Higgs and Richard Seabourne from Cardiff have always loved animals. Richard is a nurse, so has always been the caring type, and Francesca was brought up in a home full of pets, as she explained.

"I've always had like dogs and cats, and then I ended up having a hamster, and it's just escalated from there. I always want something new when it comes to animals, they're great company," she said.

The couple already have a cat called Atticus. They found him dumped in the street and decided to rescue him. Then in August, their rescuing skills were called upon again, as they walked past a busy pet shop in Cardiff Market. They saw a kitten for sale and felt so sorry for it, they just couldn't walk away.

Richard said: "He was on his own away from the other ones, just staring out of the cage with like a scratch down his nose. It was really sad and heartbreaking to see him like that."

Francesca said they were so concerned they asked a lot of questions before buying.

"We said, 'Are you sure we can take him today?', because he did not look old enough. And they were like, 'Yeah that's fine'. In total it was £40, and they just boxed him up and gave him to us," she said.

They brought the kitten home and called him Asbo. But despite the pet shop owner's assurances that the kitten was old enough to fend for itself, it wasn't long before they realised that simply wasn't the case.

"It was pretty much as soon as we got home. As we feed the cats together, Atticus would usually tuck in and eat, whereas Asbo would look at it and then just not bother," Richard said.

"We bought a baby's bottle and fed him cat milk. It was obvious he was taken from his mother at too young an age."

The couple turned to Francesca's mother for help. She decided straight away that Asbo should see a vet. And the vet made an alarming discovery.

He explained the kitten was three to four weeks old and that there was not much hope for him. He also told the couple Asbo was very underweight, and that if he had no interest in food then there was no hope him pulling through.

It is recommended that kittens stay with their mother for the first eight weeks of their lives, before they are able to fend for themselves.

Gerry Dunne is a vet in Porth, in the Rhondda, and regularly sees kittens that are too young to be separated from their mothers.

There are significant differences in the appearance of eight-week-old kittens, compared to those which are the same age as Asbo when he was sold. Mr Dunne told us what people should look out for.

"An eight-week-old kitten will have much longer legs and a much bigger healthier body," he said.

"You'll be able to see in the proportions in the younger kitten's face, the eyes will be much larger in proportion to the face. At eight weeks all the baby teeth are fully developed, whereas at four weeks it's just the canines. The back teeth and the molars wouldn't have developed at all."

Then Francesca got the news she was dreading. The vet had to end the four-week-old kitten's life, because little Asbo just wasn't old enough to learn to feed himself.

She said: "It was really heartbreaking. When my mum phoned me in tears to tell me that, it broke my heart because he was such an adorable little kitten."

I J Roberts' pet supermarket in Cardiff Market, who sold Francesca the kitten, has a licence to sell pets with Cardiff City council. The licence states he shouldn't sell animals that are unweaned or, if weaned, at an age where they should not have been weaned.

Gerry says any pet store owner could definitely tell if a kitten was too young to be sold.

"If they know what they're dealing with, they should know they are too young. It will be pretty obvious, if they are under six weeks, that they are far too young to be separated from their mother."

But Francesca is adamant that when she asked how old the kitten was, she was reassured it was old enough to be sold.

"He said it's definitely eight weeks old, and we don't sell underage kittens here," she said.

The couple were devastated about the kitten's death, so came back to the market to complain to the owner I J Roberts. But he denied ever selling Asbo to them.

Francesca just can't believe it could happen.

"It's unfair on the animals, and the people that have to go through the exact same situation we've been through, and it's just not on," she said.

At the time of broadcast the owner of the pet stall, Mr I J Roberts, told us he did not intend to reply to our questions.

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