Keeping a cat in an apartment is not cruel per se. On whether it is cruel or not depends on what happens to an individual cat in a specified apartment. For me, and I hope for others, the question is a poor one. It is a question that should not be asked. It is better to go back to basics and to look at the wider picture. And, by the way, there are millions of contented cats in apartments.
What we should ask is whether a person or person is being cruel to a cat. In order to work that out we have to look at all the facts and apply the law.
In the USA each of the 50 states have their own animal welfare laws. For instance, New York state’s animal cruelty consolidated statutes state: [where a person] instigates, engages in, or in any way furthers any act of cruelty to any animal, or any act tending to produce such cruelty, is guilty of a class A misdemeanour. The act defines cruelty as: ‘every act, omission, or neglect, whereby unjustifiable physical pain, suffering or death is caused or permitted’.
So forgetting for a moment that a cat is living in an apartment can you say that a specified cat is suffering unjustifiable physical pain or suffering? If not then for that cat it is not cruel to keep them in that apartment.
But if the cat is living all day alone in a small apartment in Texas that gets incredibly hot in the summer because the windows are large, double glazed and shut and the apartment is on the top floor under a flat roof then cruelty might be committed because the cat is in this specific apartment. But the cruelty is committed by the cat owner’s negligence.
The fact that the cat lives in an apartment is only one element of the cat’s life that impacts on the cat when deciding if the cat is suffering from cruelty. Therefore you can’t ask if it is cruel to keep a cat in an apartment. That situation per se is not cruel.
The question is asked by someone who owns an apartment and wants to adopt a cat. They are asking whether it is okay. Setting a higher standard than animal creutly laws, it is okay provided the cat care is excellent. If the person is out all day until late at night every day their cat will probably suffer anxiety and depression. Although these are mental conditions which appear not to fall with the ambit of the New York state animal welfare acts.
What is excellent care in this context? Lots of contact with their owner, plenty of play and an environment which is enriched. Another cat who gets along really well would also help both cat and owner. There is one last point. Apartment cats need not necessarily be full-time indoor cats. It might be a ground floor garden apartment or the owner might leash train their cat and go for walks outside. There are many options.
These are my views alone. If you disagree or agree but want to add or subtract from the post please tell me in a comment.