Categories: Cat Behavior

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.

Picture (unmodified) in public domain.

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.

Please comment here using either Facebook or WordPress (when available).
Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

View Comments

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Hi, I have a question - I've had my cat for about a year now, but my partner recently moved in with me and has discovered that he's severely allergic to him. We are trying to find a way to find a new home with hardwood floors (this one has carpet) and have put in air filters, etc. but until we find a long-term solution, I've been trying to keep him in one room so that my partner can breathe. Is this bad for my cat, short-term? I don't want to re-home him, but I also don't want his quality of life to be poor now that he is confined to one room. Thanks!

  • I’m in similar circumstances. Roommates that there are issues with concerning my cats. I adopted a bonded pair from the shelter but seems every roommate I’ve had is super picky. Not cat people and seem to think it’s cruel to
    Confine them in my room yet at the same time doesn’t want them out because they keep waking her up playing. So
    Her solution is throwing them outside. Which I don’t care for because the heat rises to over a hundred and its hard to find them to bring them back in.
    So I’ve had to keep them in my room when I’m gone or asleep and let them out in the house while I’m
    Home. I don’t trust her not to throw them out again.
    I never take it upon myself concerning her dog but she is with my cats.
    So keeping them in my room at times is a must. Until i have a place of my own which isn’t likely in this economy no situation will be ideal. And that needs to be taken in account for.
    After all the only other option is shelters and that’s even worse for cats.

  • Hi I recently adopted a black male kitty and had him neutered and shots, I was intending to find him a home but fell in love with him and didnt want to give him up. He is a very timid docile kitty, however I can get him to come out of my front room (kitty foster room) his choice. I have tried picking him up and bringing him out in the living room however my other male cat tends to bully him because of his timid nature. I leave the door open but the cat doesnt come out of the room. I am very worried this kitty is not getting the love and attention he needs.

  • On the other paw, my oldest cat has free run of the house but chooses to stay in one room. If she wants company she calls but rarely - like twice a year - ventures out.

    • Wow, that is pretty extreme. She is a very nervous lady cat. It could be that one situation (nervousness leading to seeking a hiding place) reinforces another (a reluctance to venture out of the room). Conversely gradually encouraging more adventure will lead to more confidence and a more adventurous spirit but you don't want that it seems. Thanks for commenting.

  • Hi I just adopted a 9 ye old female cat Penelope.Shes house trained and everything . So The SPCA said keep her in one room with food and litter box for a day or so. So when can I bring her downstairs to recognize my whole house..

    • Hi Debra. Just introduce her gradually. There is no strict rule and time limits. You can test the water and see what happens. Try it today. She may integrate quickly but if there is a problem take her back to her room and take more time. Just do everything gently and slowly and respect her feelings and the feelings of the resident animals.

  • Since I rented a room about a year ago, my cat, Mitzy, is confined to "our" room, along with me. I do take her out with halter and leash once or twice a day. And she has a large window to view the neighbors and bird activity outside. When the weather is mild, I keep the window open.

    My new landlady doesn't want Mitzy to be allowed in the rest of the house, except to go outside and come back in.

    Even though I could sit in the living room while my landlady is at work, I stay with Mitzy in my bedroom. I willingly confine myself to be with her. I've created 7 different spots at various heights for her to sleep on, or to view the outside. (I surrendered the 7th one, which I had my things on, because she indicated that she wanted to jump up there!)

    I have a small room, with only about 2-3' around my bed to walk. When I open the door, it almost touches the end of my bed.

    The litter box is in the closet on one side of the bed, and her food and water are on the other side. The water dish is about 3' away from the food.

    She always wants to go out when she's not sleeping, so at times there's a lot of "meowing" going on. I distract her with a toy, or just lay down and cuddle with her.

    I wish my circumstances were different, but last year I was looking at the dire prospect of living in my car, as my friend did with her cat,for 6 months. And she didn't have the option of walking her with halter and leash, since she's never trained her.

    So, I think that's another good reason to train a cat to halter and leash. In case of an emergency, where your only shelter may be your vehicle, at least you can get your cat out safely. I never thought of this until now.

    I wanted to include a picture, but mine are all over 50KB, until I resize them.

Recent Posts

Are Sphynx cats from Egypt?

I can see the connection as anybody else can. The question has been prompted by…

2 hours ago

Omani woman looks after 500 cats

NEWS AND COMMENT: Although Maryam al-Balushi finds cats and dogs more faithful than humans and…

4 hours ago

The Queen of England evicts two cats from Royal Apartment

COMMENT: The story is not what it looks like in the title. But it is…

23 hours ago

20 Sphynx cats rescued

NEAR EDMONTON, ALBERTA, CANADA - NEWS (COMMENT): CTV NEWS (and this story is unique) reports…

1 day ago

Are Sphynx cats hypoallergenic?

No, Sphynx cats are not hypoallergenic. Sphynx cats are like any other domestic cat in…

1 day ago

Being curmudgeonly at Thanksgiving 2020

Americans deserve a bit of fun. We all do. It's a time for optimism and…

1 day ago