Is it cruel to keep a cat in one room?

If you asked a hundred, knowledgeable animal and cat loving people whether it is cruel to keep a cat in one standard room I would expect at least 90% of them to say that it is cruel. It does however depend upon the environment created and the size of the room. However, this is not a black-and-white situation and you can’t go off at the deep end and decry a person who keeps their cat in a room. It also depends on how long the cat is kept in a single room. Indeed, when you introduce a new cat to existing cats in a household it is advised that you keep the cat in a room for several days to allow a gentle introduction.

Is it cruel to keep a cat in one room?
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But if a person told me that they wanted to adopt a cat to live in their apartment and that they wanted to keep their cat in one of the rooms I would advise them to not adopt a cat. Why would it be cruel to keep a cat in a room permanently?

Territory – home range

The first reason is that if we are to respect cats we have to allow them to express their natural desires and it is unlikely that they can do that in a single room in a flat unless the room is 50 feet long and 30 feet wide with a catio attached to it. Domestic cats need, ideally, around an acre of territory – home range.

Okay, they are highly adaptable and can live in smaller areas and they can do so reasonably contentedly but a single room is simply too small for a cat to feel comfortable in. Yes, a domestic cat can live in a room. The cat will survive but you won’t know how tormented she’d be. It may cause mental health issues. It is likely to make the cat very timid and nervous about any form of stimulation unless a great effort is undertaken by the owner to make the environment adequate. Arguably, though, it is impossible to make a single standard sized room environmentally adequate for a domestic cat.

A single room in a home might be less satisfactory than a cage in a zoo and we know that zoos are not good places for cats as they are known to be stressed. At least the cage is open to the outside environment where the animal can smell, hear and see what is happening around him or her. A room may have a window which may allow the cat some stimulation from outside activity but it is entirely inadequate to depend upon this.

The bottom line is that a single room does not (1) provide enough space for a domestic cat to satisfy innate desires and (2) will lack sufficient stimulation by its nature. You can test the question by taking it to an extreme. If you place a domestic cat in a 4×3 foot box for the remainder of his life you would be prosecuted for animal cruelty because everybody would deem it to be very cruel. Therefore it’s a question of size and a single room is, I would argue, below the threshold for an adequate size of territory and nature of habitat for the typical domestic cat.

12 thoughts on “Is it cruel to keep a cat in one room?”

  1. Before I met my boyfriend I had my own apartment and my two cats had the run of the house. I have a 3 year old and a 1 year old that get along well. My now fiancée is not a cat person and will not allow my two cats in the rest of the house so they are confined to a 8’x 8’ bedroom with a large window, cat trees and toys and litter box. I spend time with them but they are not as affectionate as they used to be. Is this okay for two cats to be confined. They also have a catio outside separate from the house that they spend lots of time. I feel guilty but there is no option for them to run free in the house as he will not allow them to jump on countertops and get hair everywhere. I have also been trying to harness train them so I can try to bind with them. Does anyone else have the same situation?

    • Hi Jackie, thank you so much for commenting and telling us your story. You found yourself in a difficult situation because you love your cats and you love this man. I feel sad about the situation to be honest. You are torn between two objectives and have found the best solution that you can. I don’t want to upset you or your relationship but some time ago I wrote an article about women meeting men. I said that if a woman meets a man they like but he doesn’t like cats they should dump him! I am certainly not recommending this because you have a firm relationship which is great.

      Personally, I would prefer it if the cats had a little more room in their lives. I don’t think it is right to confine two cats to an 8 x 8′ room for their entire lives. I think most people would agree with that assessment. Although they have a catio which they obviously like.

      If your backyard is big enough or of a reasonable size you might consider fully enclosing it to make it a large cat enclosure. Your fiance would probably dislike the idea though. The idea of leash training them is a good one too. But it is difficult even with the best leash training as cats are not willing followers. You see videos of leash trained cats contentedly following their owner but you don’t know what happened to get that video!

      I must say, that if I was in your situation I would feel a little bit uncomfortable being torn as I would be between wanting to please my partner and doing the best I can for my cats. It seems that both are not quite getting the best. You are doing the best you can though and I admire you for it. It will always be a compromise in effect for all of you. Ideally, I’d try and find more space for your cats. The best of luck and thanks again.

  2. A relative has 7 cats,a few are’seniors’ the rest-adults;all v-well cared w/regular vet visits,food from Vet’s clinic,all kept indoors,2 prs kept in clean bedrooms w/screened window,toys, all necessities-this due to the oldest who has clashes w/1 or 2 of other cats.she tries to keep house clean/sanitizes w/steam and lets some run around but keeps them in rooms(2)interchange ably:1 or 2 gets chance to go in lge front por ch(lge wire cage,w/food &water);she loves all & gives spc attention to each when she can.She just recently retired &house all her own;is this all normal/ok for humans?cats?
    Doctor can you pls comment? How did she het 7 cats? 1 was rescued from an un-fit owner,1 was fr owner tòo busy w/his life, the rest were litters of a ‘street mama’ she couldn’t help loving(?) all Dr Broad pls comment

    • Thank you Gracie for commenting. If she is looking after the cats properly and they are content and allowed to express their natural desires and motivations then what she does is acceptable. I don’t know the full circumstances. But seven cats in one home can generate stresses in some cats. It is an unnaturally small area for seven cats to cohabit contentedly. I hope they are all spayed and neutered. My neighbour has 10 cats in a house, not a large house. Her house stinks to high heaven of ammonia. This is because the cats pee on her carpet or inappropriately perhaps because they are stressed as they are forced to live v.close to each other when naturally they would live further apart in their home ranges.


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