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Should domestic cats stay indoors

By Jennifer Stern

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Should domestic cats stay indoors

By Jennifer Stern

, |

4 min read

Kingswood is a pet-friendly estate – but with some obvious rules. Dogs, for instance, must be within their yards at all times unless out on a walk with their humans, and there are strict rules about when they may be walked on the golf course – and, of course, what they may ‘leave behind’ on their walks. And cats must wear bells. But is that enough?

Sure, that might protect small animals from being hunted, but it won’t protect the cats from some very real risks: getting into fights with other cats, and even dogs, or getting run over, which is likely to be terminal for the cat, and also pretty traumatic for the driver.

Cats – consummate hunters

Cats make great pets. They are (or at least seem to be) affectionate, and they are cute and playful. Hmm – but that cute playfulness only seems cute because we are 20 times bigger than cats. What they are actually doing when they ‘play’ is simulated hunting, or at least honing their hunting skills. They really are consummate hunters, and they ravage wildlife. A recent University of Cape Town study showed that – on average – each domestic cat in Cape Town kills between 59 and 123 animals per year, with 27.5 million animals being killed in the greater Cape Town area in a year – about 203,000 of which are from the national park. This is the idea behind the bell, and it’s a good one, but no-one has done the research to find out just how much it does help.

Cats – the hunted as well as the hunter

While it’s a good idea to keep cats indoors to protect the wildlife around your home or estate, it’s also a good idea for the cat. Cats are adventurous. As the UCT study found, they regularly explore within a 500-metre radius of their homes. High fences are no barrier to a cat, so they’re quite likely to wander into neighbours’ gardens, which could be an irritation for the neighbours, but it could also be pretty risky for the cat if it ambles into the territory of a grumpy Rottweiler. And, even without dogs, cats get into terrible fights, so it’s not uncommon for them to come home with torn ears, or – worse – tiny, invisible wounds that turn into abscesses. And it’s not just the other pets you need to worry about.

Residents’ backs up about kitty killing

At a golf estate near Cape Town, residents became incensed because their cats were going missing, and/or being mauled – clearly by one or more of the resident caracals. The issue became quite heated, with cat lovers demanding that the caracals be removed from the estate, citing the frankly nonsensical risk of the caracals attacking humans. ‘What if it happens to a baby?’ one resident said, begging the question: ‘Do the residents of this estate allow their babies to crawl around the estate unsupervised?’ And, even in the exceptionally unlikely case that they do, caracals have not ever been known to attack a human of any size.
Another very serious threat for roaming cats is being run over by a car – and that is a very real risk.

Indoor cats are safe cats

People usually go out of their way to ensure the safety of their animals, for example, keeping dogs securely in the yard to prevent fights or vehicle accidents. But some assume that cats have superior intelligence, and can ‘look after themselves’. Of course, it’s true that cats do have superior intelligence (or at least superiority complexes), but they cannot look after themselves, as shown in the case of the caracal-crunch kitties, and the many sad flat cats found squished on the roads. Keeping cats indoors also protects them from feline immune-deficiency virus (FIV), for which there is no cure. There is a vaccine, but it is not routinely given and, anyhow, its efficacy is unproven. And don’t for one moment think that your pampered pet is above slumming it in neighbourhoods in which cats are not vaccinated.

But don’t indoor cats get bored?

They can – especially if they get no stimulation. But one of the best things about owning a cat is buying those incredibly cute toys, and you can get one of those lovely cat houses or towers with the balls, scratch sections and other distractions. You could also plant a little ‘garden’ for your cat with some catnip and a bit of grass in a largish, flat container. Make sure they have a nice, sunny window with a great view. And, of course, they don’t have to be indoors all the time. Cats love being taken for walks on a leash – with a harness, not a collar. Well, some cats do.

It’s all up to you

While there are good arguments for keeping cats inside the house, there are also some for allowing them to roam, and community living is about balance – the HOA really does not want to legislate every aspect of residents’ lives, which is why they have gone the route of insisting on the bell, but allowing individual owners to decide whether their cats should be allowed outside. So the choice is yours, but chances are that Fluffy and Tigger will live longer, happier, healthier lives if they are kept safely indoors.

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