Summary: The reason why Americans like to keep their cats inside is mainly because of a difference in approach (attitude) to cat caretaking (cat ownership) and nothing to do with hazards etc..
Why is there such a difference of opinion between Americans and Europeans on keeping cats in? To many Europeans, there seems to be a failure in our relationship with the domestic cat if we have to keep him in all the time.
There is almost a graded scale which starts in America where there is by far the largest number of cats kept inside and which ends in places like Turkey where 99% of the cats are community cats living outside/inside unsupervised. The Turkish model is much more reflective of the original domestic cat’s relationship with people. The American model is perhaps the most distant from what might be called the natural way or original way. Is the American way more refined?
Americans frequently state that the reason why they keep their cat permanently inside is to prevent their cat preying upon wildlife especially birds, to prevent the spread of disease, to protect their cat from being preyed upon by wildlife, to extend the life of their cat by avoiding being run over by a car and to prevent malicious abuse by cat haters.
However, when you compare the hazards that a domestic cat has to negotiate in America and Europe, overall, I do not see a great difference. In America there are far more predators attacking cats than in Europe. In contrast, the human population density is much higher in Europe and there are more roads and more traffic. Traffic accidents are by far the biggest killer of outside domestic cats1.
Despite the fact that the hazards facing the domestic cat are probably similar, taken as a whole in both America and Europe, far more domestic cats are kept inside full-time in America and therefore I am compelled to come to the conclusion that the reason is simply a difference in attitude as stated.
What is the cause of this difference in attitude? I don’t wish to be critical at all of either Europe or America. I wish to keep a very balanced approach to this discussion. However, with respect to the domestic cat and its ownership in America, there are in fact two outstanding differences: (1) Americans declaw their cats and (2) Americans keep their cats inside. Is there a commonality in attitude that results in these two stark facts? I believe there is.
The difference in attitude towards cat caretaking in America is more one of “ownership” and “possession”. It is an attitude more inherently linked to the Bible which states that humans have dominion over animals. Although America is a younger country than Northern European countries, Americans generally have more old-fashioned ideas. Cat ownership rather than cat caretaking is an old-fashioned idea. That is the way I perceive this difference. Also there are more purebred cats in the US and these are valuable “possessions”.
- a great many American cat caretakers keep their cats inside for the cat’s protection but I believe in general taking a broad brush assessment the main reason is the concept of possession.
- Americans might see Europeans as old-fashioned but that is not true. That is an old-fashioned idea in itself.
Britons are mainly secular. Christianity is dying out in Britain and only 15% of Britons go to church regularly. In fact, Britain was never Christian. The ancient philosophy of the Romans and Greeks infuses the attitude of Britons. I believe, that about 80% of Britons let their cats outside unsupervised because they want their cats to live as natural a life as possible and to be as content as possible and balance that desire against the risks.
I stress that I’m not making any judgements on this. I’m not saying one way is better than the other. I’m just presenting my views as I see them and trying to analyse why there is a difference in attitude between Americans and the rest of the world because no other country has so many full-time inside cats.
Australians are probably the nearest to Americans in their attitude towards domestic cat ownership. There is quite a strong feeling in Australia that domestic cat should be kept inside and/or supervised when outside. Some fresh law is springing up in Australia which regulates aspects of cat ownership such as micro chipping and outside supervision. The motivator in Australia for this tightening up of cat ownership is a desire to protect native wildlife about which the Australian authorities are obsessed.
Is It No Longer Safe to Let Your Cat Go outside Unsupervised?
Summary: the world is becoming gradually less safe for a domestic cat outside unsupervised but this is not the main reason for keeping cats inside at 2014.
Is the world becoming less safe for the domestic cat who goes outside? There was a time in Great Britain when people actually put their cats out at night and locked the door behind them. It was routine and commonplace. In Britain people still let their cats go outside at will but as the human population of Great Britain expands fairly rapidly there are more more hazards for the unsupervised outdoor cat.
Many people advocate full-time indoor domestic cats. The well-known, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) have a page on their website in which they show the most horrendous photographs of what I presume are feral cats, badly injured or dying of disease and neglect etc.. It is a deliberately shocking slide show and I could not watch it beyond the first 3 or 4 photographs. They were making the point that letting a cat go outside unsupervised is too hazardous.
Has America become more and more hazardous for the outdoor domestic cat? The only way it could become more hazardous is because there is a gradual increase in traffic because of human population growth and because there are more predators or people who want to hurt cats.
I would doubt that there are more predators, meaning wild animals that prey on domestic cats, because as there are more people in America it is quite likely that there is less wildlife and therefore less predators. Though it is quite possible that there more people who want to hurt cats either by shooting them or poisoning them or simply abusing them in any way possible.
Surely there are some places in America where it is safe for the domestic cat to go outside? In fact, there must be many, many places in America where it is safe because relative to Europe, America is still underpopulated. There are still millions of square miles of land in the US with very little on it by way of human settlement or development.
I’m sure, in America, it depends on where the domestic cat lives as to whether it is safe or unsafe to be outside. Obviously in heavily urbanised areas even the most liberal minded cat owner would have to say that it is unsafe simply because of traffic. In those areas of urban sprawl, reluctantly, I would have to concede that it is unwise to let your cat go outside unsupervised. That does not mean, however, that such a cat is a full-time indoor cat. There is no reason why a cat owner cannot actually physically supervise their cat when she goes outside by which I mean the owner stands around watching her cat walk around. Is that feasible, or is it impossible?
Leash laws are largely ineffective because very few people will bother to train their cat to walk on a leash, which is almost impossible anyway although I have seen a Siamese cat on a leash in London.
Truth be told, to “supervise your cat outside” is almost impossible in practice. It is impractical to physically supervise your cat outside and if laws state that you must supervise your cat outside then those laws are really stating that you must keep your cat inside.
What is the motivation behind people who advocate the outdoor cat should be supervised? Is the motivation to protect the cat or is the motivation to protect the human from what some people say is the spread of disease carried by the domestic cat. There is so much exaggeration in respect of the domestic cat carrying disease. However, a lot of people do not like to see outdoor cats. They like to see the domestic cat under control without natural freedoms. Perhaps the major reason is to protect wildlife from being preyed on by the domestic cat. This is also exaggerated by many people.
Ref: 1 (Karen L. Overall, M.A., V.M.D., Ph.D., Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Behavior; Department of Clinical Studies School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)