Belling The Cat

by Michael
(London, UK)

Mcavity by Barnaby_S (Flickr)

Mcavity by Barnaby_S (Flickr)

This is a two part article. Firstly, I would like to refer to the phrase "belling the cat" and secondly discuss the advantages and disadvantages of placing a bell on a cat. These are two very different subjects.

Belling the Cat

This little known phrase means to suggest or attempt to perform a difficult or impossible task. The context in which it was first used was in a fable in which a group of mice decided that the way to defend themselves from a cat was to attach a bell to the cat. The question was who would do it! A fable is "usually a short narrative making an edifying or cautionary point sometimes using animals that speak and act like humans"1. The original story gave rise eventually to the phrase, belling the cat.

belling the cat mice in council

The last line refers to the bell. The story seems to have been written in medieval times and one the first uses was in 1200.

I suppose we can all think of an occasion which would provide a suitable use of the phrase. The trouble is I can't think of one! Perhaps that is why it is little used.

Cat safety collar with bell

Is it advantageous and fair to place a collar with a bell on a cat?  A bell stops the cat being an effective hunter/predator. Well, that is the objective but two studies that I have read do not produce findings that conclusively support the effectiveness of a belled collar. In one the cats caught about half the number of prey and in another there was no difference.

There is also the argument as to whether the domestic cat actually kills wildlife to a sufficient degree that should cause us concern. Studies conclude that cats do not have an impact on bird and mammal populations. This is a contentious issue and people take polarized standpoints and people can no doubt find alternative research that supports their arguments. In fact whether a cat hunts or not is dependent on the cat's character. More than half do not hunt.

Personally, I am convinced that cats do not impact wildlife such that we need to take action including placing bells on collars. Our duty is to keep our cats as contented as possible and to allow them to behave normally promotes that objective. Spoiling a cat's normal hunting behavior will, I believe, be detrimental to the cat's wellbeing.

This post: Cat Safety Collar With Bell expands on this discussion further (opens in a new window). See too: Domestic Cat Hunting

Michael Avatar

From Belling the Cat to Cat Behavior.


1. The Free Dictionary.

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Belling The Cat

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Jan 20, 2011 Bells are horrible
by: Ruth

I don't like collars on cats and there is no reason for indoor cats to wear one, I suppose they are just a badge of 'ownership' to the people who do this.

Collars with bells for cats with their freedom are horrible, I wouldn't like a bell clanging every step I took either.

People kill far more birds with their pollution and the destruction of their natural habitat than cats ever could. Cats have been on this earth a long time now but it's only fairly recently birds have started to decline.

It's down to the selfishness of humans, not to cats.

Then we have those who kill birds for pleasure, from yobs with airguns to people enjoying days of organised shooting birds from the sky.

Cats catch the weakest birds and that's Mother Natures way of weeding out those who wouldn't be able to breed or survive hardship.

What makes me angry, I've said it before but I'll say it again, is that those people always complaining about cats kiling birds are almost always those who sit down without a second thought to enjoy eating a horribly reared, horribly killed, roast bird.

Talk about do as I say not as I do !!!!

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

Jan 20, 2011 Belling
by: Barbara

I'm wondering if this "belling" can be used in two ways, belling the cat seems to be a way of installing some sort of early warning system, but also I've heard hunting hounds described as "belling" which I suppose is when they are on the scent of a fox, or waiting to set off on a hunt, and seems to be the way the hounds announce a hunting opportunity. Another "early warning". In that context, as a lifelong antihunt protester it's not a word I like very much.

And of course as I've said many times before I don't like collars on cats (or leashes, or collars and leashes on dogs but they sadly are necessary) especially with bells, can you imagine, every time you move a bell rings? Cats hearing is so much more powerful than ours, it must really irritate them.

I agree with the opinion that cats don't make as much impact on birds as some people would have us believe, yes they do catch some, or those that are allowed their freedom do anyway, and it's sad when they do, but after all nature is full of predators, that is the way of the world.

Barbara avatar


Belling The Cat — 1 Comment

  1. My cats wear collars for safety reasons, they are reflective, and I would rather they were a bit uncomfortable than dead under the wheels of a car. I have had a cat run over and had the horrible experience of finding road casualties and taking them to the vet. I know 2 cats that never really recovered from from being hit by a car and have severe hip problems which cause them a lot of pain. Still think collars are cruel?
    Only one of mine has bells. He kills sparrows. I wouldn’t mind but they are an endangered species. If they were common as muck he would be allowed to take as many as he likes. I have no problem with cats hunting, especially if its mice. Isn’t that why we domesticated them in the first place?
    Also bells help me locate them in the garden, which is a big rambling country garden of over an acre with trees all around. Its great to call them and hear their little bells as they come scampering in for their dinner and bedtime!
    PS they are easy off safety collars and our tabby has already lost 2 in the undergrowth!

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