Who's the Big Cat at Number 10?

We seem to be a pet-crazy nation – Larry, the new Downing Street cat, has prompted more media interest and speculation than many current political issues.

Following the infamous televised appearance in January of a rat on the doorstep of Number 10, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, decided to appoint an official rat catcher. This seemed to be a U-turn as he had earlier told journalists that he didn't plan to have a cat.

Larry will very much be a political animal, with a brief to cull the rodent opposition. As a rescue cat from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home with an impressive CV, he is likely to be pretty streetwise.

But vets report that the opposition can strike back with sometimes fatal results. According to AA Pet Insurance, rats carry dangerous bacteria that can be seriously harmful to cats. If attacked by a cat a rat will certainly try to sink its teeth in.

Karen Jakes, head of AA Pet Insurance, says: "Larry will need to be on his guard when he's out ratting. A rat bite can form an abscess which may not be immediately noticed beneath the cat's fur. This can quickly become infected and make the cat very poorly within two or three days. It can be very serious and even fatal if not treated immediately. Cats have been known to contract a form of leprosy from a rat bite.

"I would certainly advise staff at Number 10 to keep a close eye on Larry when he's back from his hunting expeditions," says Karen. "At any sign of incisions on his skin, or if Larry seems listless, they should immediately take him to a vet."

The cost of insuring Larry, as a four-year-old neutered rescue cat living in Westminster, is likely to be up to £21 per month for the most comprehensive cover.*

"Premiums are up to four times higher in city centres than in the country," Karen points out. "And to be honest, Larry is far more likely to be hit by a car than bitten by a rat. In fact Humphrey, an earlier Downing Street cat, was once nearly run over by the US Presidential limousine during an official visit to Number 10 by President Bill Clinton.

"I wish Larry a long, happy and productive life in Downing Street," she adds. "His predecessors were certainly successful mouse and rat catchers, and most of them lived very fulfilled lives."

Past Downing Street moggies

There's a long history of 'official' cats in Downing Street. A cat affectionately known as Treasury Bill served under Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald in the 1920s, and was an infamous mouser and ratter. More recently, Wilberforce was acquired from the RSPCA as a kitten by Premier Edward Heath and served between 1973 and 1986. Humphrey was perhaps the most famous Downing Street cat, a stray that turned up at Number 10 in 1989 during Margaret Thatcher's premiership, remaining under John Major. He stayed at Number 10 when Tony Blair took over but was retired six months later in November 1997. The most recent Downing Street cat was Sybil, who was brought from Scotland by Chancellor Alistair Darling in September 2007. Although a good mouser and ratter, she didn't settle well and was moved out after six months. Sybil died in 2009.**

* AA Pet Insurance typical Gold Cover premium for a four-year-old neutered Tabby in Westminster is £21 per month, which includes up to £5,000 vets fees; £750 death from illness or accident; £750 advertising and reward if the cat goes missing; £750 for loss following theft or straying; £500 accidental damage; as well as holiday cancellation, boarding kennel fees and up to 12 months overseas travel.

** Source: www.purr-n-fur.org.uk