4 Australian cat owner attitudes to domestic cat containment or freedom to roam
My understanding of this study (see base of page) is that there are four reasons why Australian cat owners keep their cats inside their home. And there are five different ways of owning a cat in terms of containing them inside the home or allowing them outside. Australians have the highest domestic cat containment rates due to nationwide messaging to protect wildlife but it is not fully getting through.
The five ways of allowing a cat outside access or none at all are:
- Cat lives outside all the time
- Allowed inside or outside at any time
- Kept indoors at night, allowed out during day
- Kept indoors most of the day, allowed out for short periods
- Kept indoors all the time.
The most popular method in Australia, in general, as per this study is number 3 above. This is partial cat containment which has probably come about because of pressures from the authorities to curb predation by domestic cats on wildlife. The study states that more than 50% of the participants in the study “fully contained their cats”. And 33% contained their cats at night only. There are variations across the various Australian states. Number 3 above is based on the belief that domestic cats do most of their hunting at night which is not entirely true. Cats can be active during the day and night but focus on dawn and dusk.
The thinking behind keeping cats inside or not
Let’s first make the point again that this is Australia. Australia has the highest rate of domestic cat containment of any country in the world because, as mentioned, there are lots of pressures from the authorities to protect wildlife.
However, the protection of wildlife is not uppermost in the minds of Australian cat owners when they contain their cat. In fact, it is their last goal. The authorities want it to be the number one goal but it isn’t.
The four reasonings behind either containing a domestic cat or not are set out below. This is my interpretation of the study’s language which is unclear. However, the study conclusions are in line with my thoughts on this topic having read up on it a lot over the past several years.
- Cat safety. Cat owners keep their cats inside in Australia to keep their cats safe. And my comment on this is that the underlying reason for this mentality is because the owner does not want to suffer the anxiety of knowing that their cat might be unsafe outside. That particular point is NOT made by the study. Cat owners Australia and in other parts of the world keep their cats indoors for their benefit primarily. I think that is a very important point as it is about human mental health more than feline physically safety.. And this point was omitted by the study. It is perhaps the most important point to make. Speciesism underpins all of humanity’s relationship with nature.
- Cat owners generally feel that a domestic cat has a right to roam in order to express their natural desires and motivations. They want their behaviour to be normal. They feel that they cannot achieve this if they confine their cat to the home.
- Cat owners believe that they may have difficulty in confining their cat to the home. This would probably occur (and happens most commonly) because their cat has indoor/outdoor access freely and in order to stop it there would be repercussions in terms of negative cat behaviour. The cat wouldn’t understand why they are suddenly contained and not allowed to go through the cat flap to the outside. This is off-putting to a cat owner. That’s my interpretation.
- Cat owners believe that cats need to hunt because they are natural born predators. They are a top predator and if they are prevented from hunting, they are prevented from expressing their most fundamental desire and behavioural traits. Cat owners don’t want that to happen.
The answer to this very difficult question of whether to allow a cat outside unsupervised or to contain them inside the home must be in a compromise. The best compromise is to make the domestic cat environment as attractive as possible to them while, at the same time, containing them to the owner’s property if there is sufficient space. Where there is sufficient space, you can build a very nice garden enclosure which is cat-proof combined with a catio and all other manner of “furniture” to entertain your cat. This would ease the possible guilt that the cat owner feels when containing their cat all the time. Of course it is very notable that the Australian authorities are driving home the message that they must keep their cats indoors to protect native species and in ACT they are forced under the law to keep their cats indoors. However, this message to protect wildlife is not getting through. It appears that the average person – and this does not only apply to Australia – is too disconnected from wildlife to be concerned about it.
Putting the cat before the wildlife: Exploring cat owners’ beliefs about cat containment as predictors of owner behavior. Link: https://doi.org/10.1111/csp2.502
I regret to say that the study is very poorly written. It needs to be much clearer which is why I have had to interpret it. There should be no need to interpret a study. It should be set out factually and clearly. A good point about the study is that they have allowed complete access to it free of charge and visitors to it can use sections of the study under a Creative Commons licence. That is nice of them but there is a need for scientists to improve their reporting.
Great article, Michael! What about houses with enclosed gardens?
Didn’t I mention this? If not, I’ve mentioned it many times elsewhere. Thanks for sharing.