For years cat owners have been urged to keep their pets indoors or confined to their properties. A major reason for this has been to protect wildlife as cats are natural predators – even if they are well fed. Research conducted last year found each roaming pet cat kills 186 reptiles, birds and mammals each year.
Cat owners who allow their cats to roam are likely to believe that their cat either does not hunt or hunts very rarely. This view is likely to be supported by the fact that hunting cats often only bring home a small proportion of their catch which means their owners are unaware of the extent of their pets’ impact on wildlife.
Recent research in Victoria investigated why some cat owners kept their pets indoors. They found that for many it was not concern for wildlife that was their primary motivation, but concerns about the risks of this complete freedom to the cat’s safety. They were concerned their cat might be lost, stolen, injured or killed.
There are considerable dangers to a roaming lifestyle. A study of more than 5,300 Australian cat owners in 2019 found that 66% had lost a cat to incidents such as a car accident or dog attack or the cat going missing. Despite these risks, those owners who do let their cats roam are likely to believe it’s better for the cat’s well-being and that hunting is normal cat behaviour.
It’s interesting to compare the views about responsible pet ownership in relation to dogs and cats. While there is general acceptance that dogs should be contained on the owner’s property, some cat owners do not accept that they have a responsibility to contain their feline pets. Of course, a major reason for this difference is the fact that dog owners are legally required to contain their dogs while cat owners are not.
This is changing in some areas. In the ACT, for instance, cat containment is mandatory in several areas. From July 2022 all new cats must be contained, unless on a leash.